England Academy Pipped by AIS

England Academy, featuring four junior Warriors, went down 28-26 to the Australian Institute of Sport on Friday evening.

A disappointed England Academy Head Coach Steve Crooks reflected after this game that the half dozen tries his side scored ought to have been enough to win any game. But having taken a ten point lead into the dressing room at the interval, England were caught cold - literally, on a freezing Warrington evening - when the AIS hit them with a converted try two minutes into the second period. True, an Australian error presented the opportunity for England to promptly recoup four points, but thereafter only rarely posed the level of threat they had shown in the opening forty minutes, as the Aussies, having played and comfortably won two games in France, started to look the sharper, sealing the win with two Daniel Mortimer tries in the last ten minutes.

England had taken the lead on the quarter hour when Wakefield's Jay Pitts, playing in an unfamiliar front row position, showed agility and strength to get over in the corner. The Aussie reply saw back rower Ryan Hansen plough over one defender, finding Gerrard Beale in support, the fullback's pass being deflected off Leeds hooker Paul McShane before being touched down by the posts by stand-off Ray Thompson : Hansen landing the first of his four vital goals.

The breakneck pace of a rock-hard contest continued when a lightning one-handed pick-up by McShane presented England with unexpected possession, and Wigan's Shaun Ainscough went after St. Helens centre Jamie Foster played him in. Tom Briscoe finished the half with a pair of tries, Richard Myler of Salford chiming into action to send the Hull centre in at the corner, then after Ainscough had attracted defenders on the left, a succession of passes to put him in again. Foster though, was not quite on the mark with his kicks, albeit from difficult positions : those misses would prove crucial.

The performance of the English forwards in that opening half had been particularly eye-catching, with Warrington front frower Adam Neal, on his home ground, and the makeshift prop Pitts, getting through plenty of work. The pairing of Wigan's Liam Farrell with Saints' Andrew Dixon was an effective one, whilst Wigan loose forward Chris Gerrard provided a good kicking outlet as well as being a creative ball player.

But AIS had sensed the need to start the second half strongly, which they did, Thompson's second try of the game coming after Chris Faust had powered through a short-handed defence with one man down injured, to slip an inside pass, Hansen's goal cutting the margin to four points, but almost from the restart an Aussie knock-on saw Jamie Ellis throw a tremendous long ball to Huddersfield centre Michael Lawrence, playing on the wing, and he crossed at the corner.

This time Chris Gerrard attempted the unsuccessful conversion, and when AIS centre Max Dudley scored with men to spare, Hansen's conversion trimmed the margin back to two points. Lawrence had to be safe under a menacing high ball moments later, and was, before Thompson slid a grubber in-goal which was just too heavy. England even seemed to have weathered the storm, going eight points ahead with a dozen minutes left, when Ainscough swatted off defenders to dive over wide out, and Foster's sole conversion of the evening was accurate.

It was then that a niggling feud between the respective loose forwards, which had simmered since midway through the opening half, flared sufficiently to attract a penalty to AIS, and Mortimer slipped inside a hesitant defence from close range, Hansen kicking the conversion. Then, with five minutes left, Mortimer got the winner, having hunted to find a gap between a couple of heavy legged defenders, to go scampering from halfway into the left hand corner. Even so, with a chance from their final set to rescue the contest, England could find nothing to trouble the Aussie defence - exactly why will be just one of the questions which needs to be answered before next Friday's concluding game at Wakefield.

Friday, 23rd.November, 2007.
ENGLAND ACADEMY UNDER 17'S 26
AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF SPORT 28
(Played at The Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington)

England Academy:
1. Phil Baines (St. Helens)
2. Shaun Ainscough (Wigan W)
3. Jamie Foster (St. Helens)
4. Tom Briscoe (Hull FC)
5. Michael Lawrence (Hudd. G)
6. Jamie Ellis (St. Helens)
7. Richard Myler (Salford CR)
8. Adam Neal (Warr'ton Wolves)
9. Paul McShane (Leeds Rhinos)
10.Jay Pitts (Wakefield T.)
11.Liam Farrell (Wigan W)
12.Andrew Dixon (St. Helens)
13.Chris Gerrard (Wigan W)

Substitutes:
14.Kallum Watkins (Leeds R)
15.Josh Hodgson (Hull FC)
16.Jason Walton (Salford CR)
17.Kyle Massam (Wigan W)

Australian Institute of Sport:
1. Gerrard Beale
2. Ben Henaway
3. Max Dudley
4. Daniel Vidot
5. Mitch Porter
6. Ray Thompson
7. Daniel Mortimer
8. Andrew Clayton
9. Jake Friend
10.Joel Latham
11.Ray Hansen
12.Dunamis Lui
13.Andy McCullough

Substitutes:
14.Luke Latham
15.Robert Lui
16.Chris Faust
17.Alex Butschies

Referee : Ben Thaler (Normanton) Pens : 6-7 H.T. 16-6

England Academy Tries: Pitts (14min.); Briscoe (35; 39); Ainscough (24; 64); Lawrence (44)
Goals: Foster 1 from 5; Gerrard 0 from 1

A.I.S. Tries: Thompson (21; 42); Dudley (53); Mortimer (70; 75)
Goals: Hansen 4 from 5

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