Rugby League / Challenge Cup: Farrell rescues Wigan from brink of defeat

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The Independent Online
Hull . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

THERE have been other death-defying escapes from the brink during the seven years since Wigan became unbeatable in the Challenge Cup, but nothing quite like this.

Seconds before half-time, with the score stacked at 21-2 against them, it seemed that their astonishing run of 32 victories in the competition was finally coming to a halt.

Ten minutes from the end, however, Andrew Farrell, one of the few Wigan players who had looked capable of contributing to a rescue, went over in the corner and their aura of cup invincibility was once more intact.

In the intervening half-hour, Wigan had turned almost certain defeat into one of their most memorable victories. They were undeniably helped by a howling easterly gale at their backs and by Hull's growing tendency to make nervous mistakes. But most of all, they were rescued by their instincts for survival in knock-out rugby.

Their revival began two seconds before the half-time hooter and it was a nightmare by episodes for the Hull winger, Paul Sterling. It was crucial that Wigan were held until the interval, but Sterling lost the ball to give them six tackles in the Hull 25, knocked on going for an interception to add another six and then failed to secure Shaun Edwards's cross-kick from which Barrie-Jon Mather scored their first try.

Mather also claimed the second as Wigan began to gain momentum, taking Gary Connolly's pass after he was allowed to keep the ball alive on the last tackle. Frano Botica landed that goal from the touch-line and then one from the opposite side after Sam Panapa had taken Martin Dermott's pass to charge over. That brought Wigan to within three points, but Hull might still have survived if it had not been for an inexplicable mistake by their French international, Daniel Divet.

Divet had done well to catch a Wigan kick, but then tried to pass under pressure and surrendered possession near his own line. Wigan seized their chance, moving the ball to the left for Farrell to barge over for their one-point win. Even after that, Paul Eastwood could have rescued Hull, but a difficult 30-yard penalty into the wind drifted wide.

Hull had used that wind expertly in the first half as they pinned Wigan back and built up what had looked an unassailable lead, even against the holders. After an early exchange of penalties and a brilliant cover tackle by Richard Gay that kept out Connolly, they took the lead when Des Hasler dived through on to Mark Hewitt's short kick.

A wonderful 45-yard try by Divet, just three minutes after he had come on as a substitute, continued the good work and Steve McNamara's drop goal, a close-range try from Jon Sharp and three conversions from Eastwood had them within sight of the result every side in Britain has lusted for in the cup since Oldham beat Wigan in February 1987.

Wigan had been stilted in attack and nave in defence but their cup pedigree has given them the ability to contrive a result out of the least promising of circumstances. Once Mather had crossed for his first try, it was always a question of whether Hull could hang on. How Divet, in particular, must wish that he had done.

Hull: Gay; Eastwood, G Nolan, Grant, Sterling; Hasler, Hewitt; McNamara (Walker, 33), Dixon, Street (McNamara, 62), Sharp (Street, 74), Doyle, Busby (Divet, 18).

Wigan: Lydon (Platt, 64); Robinson (Lydon, 80), Mather, Connolly, Ofiah; Panapa, Botica; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt (Edwards, 33), Cassidy, McGinty (Gildart, 28), Farrell.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).