Tait puts Leeds at full tilt

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The Independent Online
IT WAS just as Garry Schofield said. Leeds simply had too much pace and class for Featherstone at Elland Road yesterday and will return to Wembley on 29 April for a second tilt at Wigan - the first time a final has been reprised the following year - thanks to their ability to play this Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-

final on their own terms.

Schofield's own try after two minutes set the tone. Taking an interception from Mark Aston in his own 22, he turned back the clock on a motor that was thought to have lost its top gears to run 90 yards and score in the corner. "When I saw how far it was, I was debating whether to knock on," he said. "The last time I went that far was four years ago, but I just made it."

In a free-flowing semi-final, no one found more freedom at Elland Road than the Leeds full-back Alan Tait, who had to wait until the 67th minute for his try but was a constant danger to Featherstone with his incisive running from deep.

"I enjoyed the wide open spaces, but I think we all did," Tait said. "Our coach Doug Laughton keeps telling us we're a great attacking side. It's a question of playing to our strengths."

Those strengths yesterday included the underrated contribution of their hooker, James Lowes. Not only did the converted scrum-half top the tackle count - a regular occurrence at Leeds this season - his clever linking and switching of play also did much to maintain his side's momentum. "It's a shame that James Lowes doesn't get the recognition that goes to the try scorers," said an admiring captain, Ellery Hanley. Recognition of Hanley's own matchless prowess as a try-scorer will take another leap by the end of the season when he beats, as he surely will, the record for tries in a season by a forward.

Hanley's two yesterday took him level with a Leeds predecessor, Bob Haigh, and one disallowed in arguable circum- stances at the corner would have given him the record. "There are more important things than records. The main thing is that we won," Hanley said.

There was never much doubt about the outcome, although Featherstone hit back admirably after Schofield's opener with tries from Ikram Butt and Matt Calland. They were soon overwhelmed by a Leeds team playing the game in the manner that comes most naturally to them.

Hanley's first try, from acting half-back, and Jim Fallon's second, from Tait's pass, put Leeds in a commanding position. Two disallowed efforts early in the second half delayed the coup de grce but that arrived when the scrum-half Graham Holroyd, who also kicked five goals, went through a static defence from Schofield's pass.

Hanley and Tait then put it beyond doubt, before Featherstone's late burst of defiance brought them tries from Daniel Divet and Graham Southernwood.

"You expect determination from a side coached by David Ward," Schofield said. "But we have too much class and pace." On top of that, Leeds have the hard-won experience from last year's 26-16 defeat at Wembley.

"We won't have so much space against Wigan, but this is the way we have to try to play," said Tait.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro, Innes, Cummins; Schofield, Holroyd; Howard (Harmon, 29), Lowes (Faimalo, 77), Faimalo (Howard, 66), Mercer, Eyres (Vassilakopoulos, 37), Hanley.

Featherstone Rovers: Gibson; Butt, Rodger (Nixon, 51), Calland, Hughes; Tuuta, Aston; Molloy, Southernwood, Casey (Nadiole, 46), Divet, G H Price, Roebuck.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).