Rugby League: Wigan's power crushes the dream

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Warrington. . . .10

Wigan . . . . . .27

THIS dream tie in rugby league's Regal Trophy took the holders, Wigan, just down the road to a quarter-final with the league leaders, Warrington, in a clash of such fervour and kindred spirit that it might well have been kept for the final. Still, it was money in the bank for both clubs, a harsh, absorbing struggle - the one which made your eyes rather than your mouth water - for a near-capacity crowd. It also ended Warrington's run as though they had hit an abandoned skip. It will be a hard act for the competition to follow.

One difference between league and union - apart from practically everything except the ball - is its intense local feeling. International games are frivolous. Club games are the real stuff - especially between neighbours with such credible claims to be the game's top clubs.

The game began as a dog-fight between two sides who knew each other's foibles only too well. Warrington, playing into the wind, found it desperately hard to clear their line against Wigan's early power play, and although they moved the ball fast across the field to try to break out of close contact, Wigan scored in the 13th minute by a well-tried variation on the pressure. After the frontal assault, a deft, precise kick to his right by Frano Botica for Jason Robinson to run on to, like a greyhound chasing a hare, presented him with a try in the corner.

Another 13 minutes and Lee Penny, the Warrington full-back, having been penalised for a high tackle, saw Botica make a goal of it. The home supporters had little to cheer except a hopping, skipping run by Jonathan Davies, which gained ground but no points, and just before half-time Botica added a drop goal to inch the difference between the sides to seven.

Just wait until Davies has the wind behind him, people were saying at the interval. After nearly five years in the league, and having lived down his amateur past, he is now accepted as the great alchemist at Warrington, turning comparative dross into gold. But the change of ends had no apparent effect immediately, Wigan handling the ball across the line to put Paul Stevens in for a try on the left.

In reply, Davies kicked a routine penalty from in front of goal, which was a start, and then masterminded a short-lived transformation. First he produced one of those familiar but always surprising chip-kicks to give Rob Myler a left-wing try. And then he reduced Wigan's lead to three points by converting from the touchline.

It was all according to legend, but in this case Wigan rudely destroyed the romance. Robinson was once again unleashed from near halfway, this time to gallop to the posts for a try, and Barrie Mather scored another at close quarters. Davies kicked a second penalty in between, but Warrington had lost touch for good, and a final try by Kelvin Skerrett finally convinced the subdued Warrington supporters that the miracles had run out.

Warrington: Try Myler; Goals: Davies 3. Wigan: Tries Robinson 2, Mather, Skerrett, Stevens; Goals Botica 3; Drop Goal Botica.

Warrington: L Penny; M Forster, C Rudd, J Davies, R Myler; K Ellis, G Mackey; C Teitzel, P Darbyshire, R Phillips, P Cullen, D Elliott, K Shelford.

Wigan: J Lydon; J Robinson, B Mather, G Connolly, P Stevens; S Panapa, F Botica; K Skerrett, M Hall, A Platt, N Cowie, A Farrell, P Clarke.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).