PRESIDENT of Liverpool St Helens, the legendary Ray French and the nation’s favourite rugby league commentator, wrote in the match day programme: “Keep a smile on your face whatever the problems on or off the pitch; help your club to serve the community and always remember – it’s only a game”.
Well for the vast majority of the Vale of Lune’s players and supporters after their defeat at Moss Lane, the laughter lines were hard to discern and certainly the chuckle factor hardly registered.
What rankled in the Vale camp and at a guess also in Liverpool’s, was the stop- start nature of the game due to an alarming number of penalties conceded by both sides under the eagle eye of referee Callan.
The laws of rugby are complicated to say the least and by their very nature invite controversy, everyone views each incident differently but at the end of the day it is all down to the official in the middle and his or her interpretation of events; one thing is for certain the offside law in rugby union could not be accommodated on a 50p piece.
It would be fair to say that the Vale did not have the rub of the green and it was all very frustrating for the Vale because in an evenly contested encounter between two well matched sides, they created a number of chances but were unable to put them away.
The Vale were looking to extend their unbeaten run to five games, any victory against Liverpool St Helens has never been easy, coupled with the fact they have yet to win a league game at Moss Lane.
In the meantime the hosts had experienced a wobble in recent games, losing three on the bounce and so were eager to put their push for promotion firmly back on track.
Prior to kick-off there was a touch of the Len Deighton and John le Carre emanating from the Vale bunker ahead of finalising their team.
Scrum half Darren Wilson had not be named in the selected line-up in a hope of confusing the opposition and their possible line-up and tactics. The Vale’s opening matched the meteorically favourable conditions. Jimmy Moore and Adam Macluskie combined in a flowing attack that forced Liverpool to retreat.
A five metre scrum increased the pressure on the home side, the ever improving Ben Charnley at number eight broke from the base and Liverpool were penalised.
A fired up Vale eight needed no second bidding, and quickly packed down before any decision about a kick at goal could be debated.
Again Liverpool were squeezed and skewed.
Wilson, the man of mystery, broke from the base on the short side to link with wing forward Gareth Tudor who forced his way over for an unconverted try aginst his former club after seven minutes of sustained Vale rugby.
Unfortunately the Vale were unable to maintain their early threat and gradually Liverpool gained control to roll the Vale into their own half.
In addition, the penalty count began to rise inexorably against the visitors, culminating with James Hodder being shown a yellow card in the 22nd minute.
During periods of Liverpool pressure the Vale defended in depth against some rather predictable attacks, their tackling was sure and certain, in particular from Jonty Higgin, who was in fine form in the centre throughout.
His solo run, as the game moved into the final 10 minutes, was deserving of a score.
In a fragmented half the Vale worked hard to add to their total. Tom Carter saw his long range penalty fall short but the Vale followed up quickly to pin Liverpool down.
From a line-out, Charnley almost slipped away and a late Vale scrum had Liverpool in a spot of bother but the Vale were unable to secure clean quick ball in a move that went sideways.
Some powerful Vale scrummaging was much in evidence in the opening minutes of the second half as Liverpool grimly defended their line but the outcome of a closely fought game was decided as it happened, in the 46th and 51st minutes respectively when first Wilson and then Lee Acton were sent to the sin-bin.
Down to 13 players, the Vale conceded their lead in the 52nd minute when they were trundled over their goal line for Liverpool’s shrewd number eight Phil Kearns to claim a try which full-back Liam Ratcliffe converted.
On the hour mark Liverpool increased their lead when a long speculative, innocuous kick-out of defence suddenly became transformed into a twisting rattlesnake.
While the Vale attempted to deal with this slithering cold blooded reptile, replacement John Pape was cast in the role of a snake charmer, sweeping up the ball to race away for an unconverted try without a fang being laid on him.
Back to full strength the Vale worked hard to close the gap.
Wilson began a move deep in his 22, Moore lashed the ball downfield as the Vale tried to build a secure base.
A passage of driving rugby from the Vale was held up short of the line, a Vale scrum was penalised and gradually Liverpool edged their way out of danger as their old heads began sensibly to run the clock down.
A penalty goal from stand-off Simon Worsley in the 74th minute took the losing bonus point out of the Vale’s reach, despite a late rally from the visitors.
Of course there were smiles and handshakes at the final whistle, coupled with the thoughts of president Ray, to soothe the savage beast, and there were a fair few of these to be found in the tape strewn Vale of Lune changing room afterwards, to put things into perspective.
Vale of Lune: T Carter (T Ball 72), J Hodder, A Powers, J Higgin, A Macluskie, J Moore. D Wilson (capt), J Hesketh, P Berry, A Cowey, L Acton, S Wallbank, G Tudor (A Baines 68), D Lin, B Charnley.