Liley has a bit of fun

Rugby Union: Midlands 42 North 45
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The Independent Online
THERE was more than a hint of the Christmas spirit here. Intoxication was appropriate in a match which lost contact with reality before half- time and long before the end had lost contact with itself, there being precious little tackling of any note. It was nevertheless a bit of fun, producing 87 points with 12 tries, six apiece. The difference was therefore in the kicking, Rob Liley scoring 15 points for the North to James Quantrill's 12.

Just when they thought it was safe to come out and claim the match and with it the CIS divisional title, their fifth in total, the North were hit by a burst of scoring in which the Midlands, in the space of six minutes on either side of half-time, scored 21 points. It was an astonishing transformation, as swift as it was unexpected. Up until that point the North, all dash and enterprise, were cutting their ponderous, pedestrian opponents to pieces.

With a reorganised and hastily reconstructed back five forwards, the North had sensibly opted out of becoming embroiled in an attritional battle with physically superior opponents. Instead they ran almost everything and if some of the decision-making was as imprudent as the passing was wayward, it was done at such a pace that the mistakes are almost always covered.

In the whippet-like Austin Healey, who scored two tries, and the swashbuckling Jim Mallinder, the North had two players of genuine class, and they created mayhem. Mallinder, big and powerful, ran with rare subtlety and precision from full-back. Healey, whose second try steadied a ship which was foundering badly, could easily have had a hat-trick had he not been pulled back in desperation by his marker. But it mattered not because Jos Baxendell won the race for the touchdown.

In contrast, the Midlands were a rabble for most of the first half. Some of their backs could run, others could pass but they didn't appear to have anyone who could do both. With the result that they had none of the fluency of their opponents and their opening two tries, which followed on from Quantrill's two penalties, were prosaic by comparison. Paul Challinor scored the first from short range, and Daniel Grewcock the second after Challinor had quick-wittedly taken a tap penalty in front of the posts.

Suddenly, from a seemingly hopeless position, Midlands were just one point behind at half-time. Within a minute of the restart they were ahead when Budge Pountney scored and Quantrill converted. Four minutes later the Midlands scrum unaccountably buckled in front of their posts, the referee awarded a penalty try and North had regained the lead, which Healey increased with his second try.

By now the game was running out of control. John Farr brought Midlands back to within striking distance with a well-worked try, Rob Liley kicked his first penalty and Challinor, with a lateral run down the short side, scored his second try. Quantrill's failure to convert and the subsequent penalty miss proved crucial and it was entirely fitting that the deciding score, although not the last of the game, should have come from Matt Greenwood, the outstanding forward on the field.

Midlands: J Quantrill (Rugby Lions); A Smallwood (Nottingham), B Whetstone (Bedford), A Kerr (Moseley), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), J Farr (Winnington Park); M Volland (Northampton), R Cockerill (Leicester), N Webber (Moseley), J Phillips (Northampton), D Grewcock (Coventry), I Skingsley (Bedford), B Pountney (Northampton), C Tarbuck (Leicester, capt). Replacement: M Freer (Nottingham) for Volland (40).

North: J Mallinder (Sale); A Healey (Orrell), J Baxendell (Sale), P Johnson (Orrell, capt), C Yates (Sale); R Liley (Sale), D Scully (Wakefield); G Baldwin (Wakefield), G French (Bath), M Shelley (West Hartlepool), K Westgarth (West Hartlepool), P Stewart (Wakefield), M Greenwood (Wasps), A Brown (West Hartlepool), R Arnold (Newcastle Gosforth). Replacement: C Lee (West Hartlepool) for Yates (75).

Referee: I Rogers (South Africa).