France Under-18 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12
THEY started uncertainly and allowed the French two face-saving tries towards the end, but Great Britain were too well organised for their opponents for the bulk of the Under-18 international at Wigan last night.
Great Britain missed an early chance when John McAtee, a
16-year-old scrum-half already saddled with the expectation that he is going to be the best thing at St Helens since Alex Murphy, was tackled after putting in a touch- finding kick. The British captain, Andrew Farrell, put the penalty wide. A run by Lee Senior and a drive towards the posts by Colin Hodkinson also came to nothing, as did Andy Johnson's long break from a scrum win.
France, with several players experienced at this level last year, nearly made Britain pay for those omissions. A strong break from the second rower, Pascal Jampy, set up a fine chance for Vincent Banet, and only a desperate tackle by Simon Smith saved the day.
Inspired by that let-off, Great Britain immediately went to the other end and scored. Leigh's Simon Baldwin made the initial run and smuggled the ball to Senior as he fell in the tackle. The Featherstone full-back did the rest, but Farrell again missed his kick. Baldwin's skills put Britain on the attack again and Farrell's pass sent Richard Goddard in for the second try, this time converted by Farrell. Senior claimed his second try before half-time following a run by McAtee and Farrell's conversion put Britain comfortably ahead at the break.
Two minutes after the restart, a smart combination between Johnson and Paul Stevens sent in Goddard for his second try, Farrell adding his third goal. Farrell, too strong for his French contemporaries, wasted an even better chance by hanging on to the ball for too long, but McAtee soon stretched the lead with a drop goal. Smith then showed impressive pace, running on to a deft short pass from McAtee to go 40 yards for the fifth try, Farrell again adding the extras.
France finally scored when their left wing Francois Gary squeezed in at the corner after some enterprising approach play, Laurent Lucchese succeeding with his first kick at goal.
That encouraged France to finish strongly in a match which had long been out of their reach with their prop, David Sabatier, going through several tackles to a second converted try under the posts. A burst by Farrell and a final pass from the man of the match, Senior, put Darren Rodgers over for a last-minute try that ended the match on a high for Great Britain.
GREAT BRITAIN UNDER-18: Senior (Featherstone); Smith (Wigan), Goddard (Wakefield), Stevens (Wigan), Rodgers (Dewsbury); Johnson (Wigan), McAtee (St Helens); Thompson (Sheffield), Hodkinson (Warrington), Hilton (Warrington), Haughton (Wigan), Baldwin (Leigh), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Sykes (Castleford) for Thompson, 48; Hughes (Leeds) for Baldwin, 57; Hope (Wigan) for Smith, 62; Sheridan (Sheffield) for McAtee, 65.
FRANCE UNDER-18: Frayssinous (Villeneuve); Fauvel (Villeneuve), Dulac (St Gaudens), Bomati (Catalan), Gary (Toulouse Julien); Lucchese (Tarn Sud), Gonzales (Limoux); Hechiche (Lyon Villeurbanne), Tena (Catalan), Sabatier (Carcassonne), Dega (Villefranche), Jampy (Catalan), Banet (Catalan). Substitutes: Ruffo (Begles) for Banet, 40; Rostang (Carpentras) for Lucchese, 66; Soulan (Toulouse Julien) for Gary, 72.
Referee: J Torres (France).
Debt-ridden Widnes are close to agreeing a survival package of pay cuts with their players. The club's chairman, Jim Mills, said that a meeting to discuss changes to existing contracts this week had produced a positive reaction from the players.
'They have been very good and we are close to an agreement,' he said. 'The players realise that the club is fighting for its survival.'
At a separate meeting, the members have been told that they will have the final say on whether the club should become a limited company, in common with most other sides in the League.