Rugby League: Botica's boot makes the difference

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The Independent Online
St Helens. 4

Wigan. . .5

THE kicking of Frano Botica proved the difference between two fiercely committed sides in a Lancashire Cup final that had everything but tries yesterday.

The way that 11 members of his World Cup final squad hammered into each other at Knowlesey Road must have given the watching Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, palpitations.

But Reilly, always opposed to the idea of playing such a highly charged game six days before Wembley, has grounds for hoping today that his team has come through relatively unscathed.

His main concern will be over Martin Offiah, a potential match- winner against Australia who played the first half yesterday with his right hamstring heavily strapped and needed ice treatment at the end after coming back for the last 15 minutes.

'I'm relieved to have got through without making it any worse,' Offiah, who is hopeful that he will be able to train normally this week, said.

Wigan's coach, John Monie, who completed his full set of trophies, has a theory that players only get hurt when they are not going flat out. If that theory holds true, nobody was in any danger because this was a ferocious clash with some earth-shaking defence cancelling out the best attacking intentions.

Botica, as good a kicker as the modern game has seen, booted Wigan into what proved to be a winning lead in the first half. He began with a drop, then landed penalties which would have taxed others after Jarrod McCracken obstructed Joe Lydon and Tea Ropati went high on Andrew Farrar.

Bernard Dwyer, an unpretentious stand-in kicker for Saints, managed two in reply during the second half but missed a kickable penalty before Wigan had opened their scoring.

Saints, going down for the first time this season, had the better share of possession and Chris Joynt, the second row, went close to an elusive try on three occasions. A full house, with others locked out, argued that someone still loves county cups and few would have wanted their money back.

Twice the combat exploded into indiscipline, once before half-time when Kevin Ward and Shaun Edwards were sent to the sin-bin for fighting and again near the end when Sonny Nickle crashed late into Offiah's ribs, Nickle and Dean Bell entering the sin-bin for their role in the ensuing fracas.

More typical of the game was a thunderous tackle by McCracken on Bell that left Wigan's captain dazed but determined to carry on, marshalling the defence of a slender lead. Bell, as a New Zealander, will be neutral next Saturday, but the defensive qualities shown by others around him will be needed if Australia are to be toppled.

St Helens: Veivers (O'Donnell, 51); Hunte, Connolly, McCracken, Sullivan; Ropate, Griffiths; Harrison (Forber, 65), Dwyer, Ward, Joynt, Nickle, Cooper (capt).

Wigan: Hampson (Cowie, 23); Robinson, Lydon, Farrar, Offiah (Crompton, 40; Offiah, 65); Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt, Betts, McGinty, Bell (capt).

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

Fittler lifts Australia