Rugby League: England lose Connolly for World Cup

Widnes 16 Keighley 16
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The most exhausting week of Phil Larder's coaching career came to a nail-biting climax yesterday with Keighley losing their 100 per cent record but clinging to the leadership of the First Division.

The Keighley and England mentor was still digesting the news that Wigan's Gary Connolly, pencilled in as England's full-back, was in hospital with pneumonia and will miss the first match of the World Cup against Australia at Wembley on Saturday and probably the whole tournament.

Brian Pickup, the Wigan chief executive, said: "He is being treated for pneumonia. Graeme West [the club coach] took Gary to hospital on Friday and he is expected out of hospital on Monday. His World Cup hopes must be counted as slim and he faces an uphill battle."

On top of that, the end of a match as thrilling as anything that will be seen anywhere this season saw doubts raised over Daryl Powell, who picked up a thumb injury.

While it did his club's prospects no good, Larder will have been more pleased with his England hat on to have seen the way Andy Platt led the Widnes charge in the second half.

The home side, eight points down at the break, seemed to have lost their chance of fighting back when they had Brett Plowman sent to the sin-bin and David Hulme sent off for a lunge at Powell.

Discipline was Widnes' weakness throughout and with Simon Irving adding two more penalties to stretch their lead to 12, Keighley's greater composure looked increasingly crucial.

But another of Larder's England squad, Steve McCurrie, powered his way over and Paul Gartland's goal put Widnes back in the match.

A Gartland penalty and a conversion of his own try, scored when his chip kick eluded Keith Dixon, put Widnes into the lead, but the Cougars, urged on as ever by their wonderful travelling support, seemed to have snatched it back four minutes from time.

Yet another England man, Nick Pinkney, made his mark with a long run and Irving drew the defence for the former Widnes player, Andy Eyres, to go in.

By then, Widnes were once more down to 11 men, Christian Tyrer going to the sin-bin for delaying a tap restart.

Despite their self-inflicted handicaps, they still managed to strike back in the second minute of injury time, McCurrie's kick ricocheting to catch Chris Robinson offside and Gartland landing the equaliser.

After this, Larder will be glad to put up his feet amid the relative calm of the World Cup.

Widnes: Ruane; Devereux, Thorniley, Wright, Green; Tyrer, D Hulme; Hansen, Gartland, Platt, P Hulme, Plowman (Collier, 55; Plowman, 67), McCurrie.

Keighley: Stoop (Dixon, 12); Eyres, Pinkney, Irving, Critchley; Powell, Robinson; Gately (Tupaea, 62; Gately, 72), Ramshaw, Doorey, Fleary, Larder, Wood.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).

n Keighley's Andre Stoop is to have an operation on his knee today that will keep him out of South Africa's World Cup campaign.