Gospel according to Paul

Wigan prey on Saints to win eighth Regal Trophy before curtain lowers on competition; Wigan 25 St Helens 16 Tries: Tuigamala 15, Tries: Hayes 21, Radlinski 47, Newlove 27, Paul 52, 80 Cunning ham 71 Goals: Paul 15, 47, 52, 80 Goal: Goulding 71 Drop goal: Edwards 65 Pen: Goulding 56
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The Independent Online
IF THIS is to be the last Regal Trophy - and it is difficult to see how the competition could fit into the game's brave new world as a summer spectacle - then it has bowed out in style, with one of the most compelling finals in its 25-year history.

St Helens, the better side for much of an exhilarating and exhausting match at the McAlpine Stadium, lost only because of five minutes of slackness early in the second half. The main culprit, the unfortunate Scott Gibbs, compounded his personal misery at the death by being sent off for apparent use of the elbow on Simon Haughton.

Gibbs, who also lost the ball when threatening the Wigan try-line midway through the second half, has particular reason to feel gloomy this weekend. The frustration for the club as a whole is that they did enough to have won this match and were undone only by a couple of isolated errors and the mesmerising running that brought Wigan's Henry Paul his two tries.

Wigan did draw first blood, despite a constricted first-half display, Va'aiga Tuigamala barging his way over from dummy half by driving hard and low for the Saints' line. But St Helens hit back with a try that not only defined their rugby at its best, but came close to being a parody of their determination to keep the ball alive at all costs.

Surrounded by defenders in the left-hand corner on the last tackle, Paul Newlove and Bobbie Goulding somehow kept it moving, even at the cost of losing 20 yards. Anthony Sullivanbrought it back to link with team-mates on the right and Steve Prescott eventually sent in Joey Hayes on the opposite wing. Six minutes later, Saints were ahead - and deservedly so, when Haughton spilt the ball near his own line - and their pounding at the stubborn Wigan defence at least yielded an opening through which Goulding could send Newlove. "We knew we hadn't played well in the first half, but at only two points behind we were still right in with a chance," Paul said.

Although the Saints coach, Eric Hughes, refused to criticise him, Gibbs's mistake after 46 minutes was undoubtedly the turning point. Retrieving a kick from Jason Robinson behind his own line, he allowed the ball to roll from his grasp as Robinson followed up and he tried to carry it to safety, Kris Radlinski scooping it up for the simplest try that he will have scored in his short career.

Saints had little chance to recover from that blow before Paul struck for the first time, weaving his way past a poor attempt at a tackle from Newlove and beating Goulding and Dean Brusby to score. He added his third goal for a 10-point lead.

Goulding chipped away at the advantage with a penalty, but between two missed opportunities for Saints, Shaun Edwards edged Wigan further into the lead with a drop goal. Back came Saints, Keiron Cunningham showing amazing dexterity to reach down and plant the ball for a try despite the hoard of Wigan defenders swallowing him up. He later had the consolation of being named the man of the match. Goulding's goal brought them within a try of the lead, which they would have seized but for Gary Connolly's immaculate tackle under the sticks on Vila Matautia.

That was Saints' last gasp. All that remained was the second part of Gibbs's personal disaster, another instinctive try from the irrepressible stand-off Paul and an eighth Regal Trophy - possibly the last - for Wigan.

St Helens: Prescott; Hayes, Gibbs, Newlove, Sullivan (Northey, 47); Hammond, Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham, Pickavance (Matautia, 25), Joynt, Booth, Busby (Pickavance, 58).

Wigan: Connolly; Robinson, Tuigamala, Radlinski, Offiah; Paul, Edwards; Cowie, Hall, O'Connor, Quinnell (Dermott, 69), Cassidy, Haughton. Substitute not used: Smyth.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).