Some Things Just Cannot Be Ignored!
Sunday 11th July 2010
Valvoline Academy Phase 2
Widnes Vikings 27 St Helens 26
Report by John Sheridan
Three months ago, these two teams met in the first match of Phase 1 and St Helens claimed an easy win by 40 points, so this game was a chance to see just how far the U18s had progressed. Those who witnessed the performance at Heath Road will have been delighted to see an exciting, entertaining match in which the home team deservedly won by the narrowest of margins.
St Helens opened up with a steady set of six tackles but Widnes immediately lost possession and St Helens took advantage when on the last tackle a clever grubber kick bounced awkwardly to leave the defence flat footed and the Saints scrum half, Danny Wakefield, swooped to score. With full back Adam Barber adding the extras, St Helens were six points up after 3mins and there may have been worries that another drubbing was on the cards.
However the Vikings regathered and a St Helens forward pass gave Widnes the chance to put on their first attacking move. A Grant Gore break took him close to the line and St Helens were forced to hack the ball dead following a kick through on the last play. But the home team were not be denied as from the resulting drop out the ball was moved left where full back Alex Brown raced into the line and jinked past three defenders to score a great try wide out. Gore converted from the touchline and it was all square after 8mins.
This gave the Vikings some momentum but an unnecessary forward pass 40yds from the opposition line gave away possession and Saints quickly applied the pressure. The home line survived two sets of six with some excellent scrambling defence and then gained some valuable yards upfield following a penalty for a high tackle. Alex Gerrard was held up just short and then a lovely kick by Gore saw Brown claim his second in what was a wonderfully rehearsed move to give them a four point advantage.
An error by Barber gave Widnes another excellent attacking position 15yds out but a handling error on the third tackle saw another opportunity wasted and Saints cleared their lines with a long kick to the Widnes right wing. Receiving the ball, on debut, was Jack Owens who with his first touch of the ball cut inside and made an incisive break of 25yds up the middle. The ball was then quickly moved left and the ball once again found Alex Brown, who was having an excellent game, and he left the Saints defence floundering to claim a hat trick of tries within 21mins. With Gore converting, Widnes had taken a 10 point lead and were clearly in the ascendancy.
But it only takes a couple of lapses to see a game swing in the opposite direction and a Gore kick to touch failed to bounce infield and play was brought back to half way. St Helens attacked down the left and full back Barber looked as though he would score in the corner but magnificent tackling by Brown and Hulme kept him out. Alex Gerrard fumbled at the play the ball to gift possession back and Saints this time attacked down the right to put in centre Josh Greaves. Barber converted from the touchline and suddenly it was a four point game with 10mins to the break.
Widnes then went close as Josh Crowley was twice denied a try by strong Saints defence and on regaining possession their loose forward, Jordan Case combined with Jones and Wakefield to take them 15yds short of the Widnes line. Whilst the chance went, due to a knock on, Saints were once again assisted by poor handling by Widnes and from a knock on 20yds out, Saints opened up the home defence and substitute Joe Greenwood scored to make the scores `level.
Right on the whistle, Gore had a chance of two points after a penalty for offside but his attempt from 45yds failed and both teams went into the break at 16 points apiece. Having had the better of the half, Widnes will have been somewhat disappointed to see their lead whittled away and they knew that in the second half, against the breeze, they would have a struggle to take the spoils.
The opening period of the second half were dominated by the referee's whistle and seven penalties were awarded, six to Widnes, in the first six minutes. The referee's patience finally snapped and he sent the St Helens stand off, Nathan Ashe, to the sin bin for what was deemed as persistent infringements but despite their one man advantage, Widnes could not score. Having managed to stem the tide, Saints then looked the more likely to trouble the scoreboard as they found themselves in Vikings territory for the first time this half. Centre Josh Jones went close and Kieran Butterworth, another debut maker from the U16s, was tackled in goal forcing Widnes to drop out. Saints thought they had scored two minutes later but Widnes received a penalty following a double movement and a fantastic break out of defence, covering 40yds, by man of the match Alex Brown got Widnes back on the attack. Gerrard found himself held up near the line and then the ball went right where Brown produced a peach of a pass to put Declan Hulme over. Danny Craven added the conversion and Widnes had managed to score just before Saints had their full compliment of 13 players back on the field.
St Helens restarted by kicking the ball directly into touch and the Widnes forwards made them pay by taking the ball within yards of the try line. Jack Smith was unfortunately injured and after he had been helped from the field, Craven who with Gore had orchestrated play, calmly slotted over a drop goal to make it a significant seven point lead with 20mins left. Widnes then conceded a penalty for dragging a player into touch and prop forward Anthony Walker strolled through a tired looking home defence but surprisingly the conversion was missed, however the Widnes lead was just a precarious three points.
Both sides knew that the next score was vital and it was Widnes who went close when Gerrard offloaded to Elliot Davies who was brought down 10yds short of the line. The ball was moved right and Craven agonisingly knocked on but a great Davies tackle gave Widnes the ball back 40yds out and this time they took their opportunity. Play looked to have come to a halt when Josh Crowley was tackled near the line but somehow he managed to release the ball in the tackle and found Adam Lawton who similarly released the ball to Butterworth who dived over in the corner for a score which looked as though it had sealed the win with11mins left.
But on the first drive out of defence, the Vikings knocked on and Saints had the chance to immediately respond. Jones and Wakefield combined and a kick to the corner by Ashe was despatched over the dead ball line by Butterworth. Saints piled on the pressure from the drop out, and in an attempt to slow Saints down, Chris Walsh committed a professional foul and Widnes had to survive the remaining 8mins with only 12 men. St Helens wasted no time in driving their advantage home and Josh Jones touched down, Barber converted and after 72mins just one point separated the teams.
St Helens sensed they could snatch the lead which they had not held since the 7th minute and a good break by loose forward Case put Greenwood away but he ended up in touch as a result of a great cover tackle by Butterworth. It was now end to end stuff and a thrilling 65yd break by Alex Brown was supported by Richard Hughes and this took the play deep into the St Helens half. Gerrard took the ball closer to the line but a pass to Declan Hulme just couldn't be taken and the St Helens side soon made progress into the Widnes half but a speculative pass by stand off Ashe was intercepted by Brad Davis. There was still time for both sides to have sets of six but when St Helens knocked on, the final whistle blew much to the delight of the home team and its supporters.
To turn around a 40 point deficit from only 3 months ago shows what hard work everyone has put in and whilst there were some fine individual performances, this was a great team effort. Next week the Vikings are at home to Leeds and they will be looking to build on this and ensure they complete a double over the Headingley side.
Widnes Vikings v St Helens (home)--10 July
Alex Brown, Kieran Butterworth, Josh Crowley, Declan Hulme, Jack Owens, Danny Craven, Grant Gore, Jack Smith, Richard Hughes, Alex Gerrard, Tom Kelly, Adam Lawton, Chris Walsh.
SUBS: Chris Atkin, Ryan Stokes, Brad Davis, Elliot Davies.
Tries: Brown 3, Hulme, Butterworth.
Goals: Gore 2, Craven
Drop Goal: Craven
Adam Barber, Ste Yates, Josh Greaves, Josh Jones, James Hill, Nathan Ashe, Danny Wakefield, Jordan Hand, Marcus Baines, Anthony Walker, Danny Jones, Scott Hale, Jordan Case.
SUBS. Joe Greenwood, Joe Bate, Callum Welsby, Jack Francis,
Tries: Wakefield, Greaves, Greenwood, Walker, Jones
Goals: Barber 3
Half time: 16-16
Full Time: 27-26