Junior Vase Trophy semi-final

Skipton 0 Heath 10

NO complaints. No excuses. Heath were deserving winners of their place at Twickenham in the final of the Powergen Junior Vase after beating Skipton by two tries to nil at a soggy Sandylands on Saturday.

In the desperation of immediate post-match disappointment or the cold light of day when the wake was finally over, there were no fingers to point, no mistakes by officials or lucky bounces to offer up as the reason why Skipton's biggest prize for decades went unclaimed.

Heath produced the performance they were hoping for and Skipton could not raise their game sufficiently to wrest the prize from them. There is a time to put up your hands and acknowledge that the better side on the day were the winners and for Skipton, that sadly was the case on Saturday afternoon.

In their search for reasons why everything went pear-shaped, the Reds need look no further than an horrendous opening passage of play which left their ambitions dead in the water before they had even had enough time to work up a decent sweat.

That fateful, disastrous opening spell was every coach's darkest nightmare. In games of this importance, the men in charge want their team to hit the ground running, to be fired up and oozing passion and resolve. They want the lessons and techniques from hours of practice to be applied. They want to hit the opposition with a metaphorical punch on the nose which brings tears to the eye and leaves the opposition dazed and uncertain.

It did not happen for Skipton. The first tackle of the match was badly missed when flanker Nabeel Salama galloped into mid-field. The first lineout of the match resulted in Heath generating a tremendous drive which rocked Skipton back on their heels and cost them 20 yards. The first scrum of the game produced a strike against the put-in to Heath.

And to give the short horror story a suitable conclusion, when more flimsy tackling earned the visitors a lineout on the Skipton 22, No 8 Manu Luke scored from the simplest of lineout peels around the front after Andrew Gordon had supplied possession.

It would have been bad enough had the Skipton defence been guilty of opening up, a la the Red Sea in biblical times, but this had more to do with a man strolling down a deserted beach nibbling on a Bounty bar. Unchallenged, unhindered, he was not too embarrassed to complete a spectacular dive to take advantage of his good fortune.

At that stage an appearance by Freddie Krueger would have shocked no-one in the Skipton camp.

In a game that was always going to be tight and in conditions which made creativity a very scarce commodity, a 5-0 lead playing into the diagonal wind was the fulfilment of every dressing room wish for the Halifax side.

The barely believable passage of play, coupled with a try, had such a debilitating effect on Skipton that half-time was reached almost before they had time to get their challenge underway.

First use of the wind provided no tangible advantage as the home side struggled to find some direction and though there were clear signs that a strong focus on scrummaging might have taken the steam out of the Heath forwards, Skipton could never quite get the bit between their teeth to exploit that weak spot - further evidence of the psychological damage done in that sorry opening.

Nor did the heavy conditions help Skipton to mount a threatening rearguard action. They seemed locked into a strategy of 'Geordie' Porter driving the ball back into a midfield defence which never looked as though it would yield and with the forwards unable to generate the dynamism to create quick, second-phase possession, half-backs Duncan Brown and Adam Oldfield never had any freedom of movement.

Both worked hard to find openings, but both were unsuccessful as Heath coped effectively with everything Skipton put before them.

Tied down and with no obvious route to their goal, Skipton's cause was not helped by mistakes and turnovers, while some of the decision making was seriously flawed, notably when centre Anthony Maldera elected to kick with half a dozen men outside him and just the hint of a chance had the handling been precise.

Sadly, it was not a day when precision was easily obtained and as the game wore on, Heath's 5-0 lead started to look unassailable. Any hope of a breakout, however, was finally dashed after 72 minutes when Heath claimed more good ball at a lineout, this time throwing to the middle, and another strong surge ending in a try for prop Tom Garnett.

That score wrapped things up for Heath and left Skipton with no prospect of a last-gasp rescue bid.

In recent times, the committee and policy makers have had their problems keeping pace with the playing side of the business, which has flourished to a degree not seen at the club for a few generations. On Saturday, the progressive spirit that the players have helped to engender brought a level of organisational excellence that even the poor weather and the mud could not obscure.

It was one of those days that every club wants to be part of, when people are asked to roll up their sleeves and put on a show. It happened at Sandylands on Saturday and the way it was done reflected well on everyone involved.

But doubtless chairman Mel Mason and his colleagues would have swapped every kind comment for a couple of tries; been happy to field a few complaints about organisation in exchange for a place in a Twickenham final; gladly paid back some of the welcome cash influx for a moment in the spotlight.

But on the day, a few fatal nervous, uncertain minutes at the outset put Skipton on the back foot and there was no way back.