YORK Ironsides came close to a famous victory in the York International 9s tournament at Heworth yesterday.

They were narrowly beaten in the final by a French club FC Lezignan-Corbieres.

More than 20 teams from seven nations descended on Heworth ARLFC for the festival with, with York sides performing better than ever before.

The Ironsides gave a heroic performance to reach the final of the competition, where they were nudged out by France's oldest rugby league club.

York Cavaliers and York RUFC showed great style to reach the latter stages of the competition.

Around 3,000 people enjoyed the spectacle across two days at the Elm Park Way ground, as last year's rugby Golden Jubilee celebration became the second annual York International 9s.

"This is a great day for rugby league in York," said event organiser Jeremy Coupland. "Our first objective was to provide a great platform for clubs across Europe to come together and compete, which is a chance they do not get anywhere else.

"Our second objective was to take the rugby scene in York forward, and with events like this, which we are confident will now firmly become part of the sporting calendar, and with the success of all the local clubs, we think we are making great headway."

A total of 23 teams made the journey to Heworth, including sides from France, Russia and Holland, as well as teams from across the UK.

Match after match saw high-scoring, competitive rugby, with many games closely fought as everything was to play for.

After a day and a half, the competition came down to the last 16, with all three York sides making it past the first hurdle.

The Cavaliers were the first to fall, who stumbled when faced with the might of the British Army, one of the three British Forces sides to compete in the event.

In the quarter-finals, York RUFC came up against the same foes, managing to progress one round further than their rugby league rivals.

Despite falling behind early on they powered to a 12-4 lead only to be pegged back by two late tries, taking the match to golden point, one of three which went to the tie-breaker in the closely fought competition.

But the Army training came in handy with a breakaway winner taking them on to face York Ironsides in the semi-finals.

The Ironsides had shown their classy rugby as runaway winners of the group stage, before a convincing performance in the quarter-finals against defending champions London Koogas, saw them stroll to a 30-4 win.

But in the semis the game reached another level.

The tension in the stands spread onto the pitch, with a dramatic and hard-fought tie neither wanted to lose.

The Ironsides took an early lead with strong support play, but the Army still looked a strong side until the pressure got to all the players, with fists and feet flying from both sides.

York had one player sent off - later to be reinstated for the final - while the Army showed little of their famous discipline, going down to just seven men, with York eventually walking away with a 14-0 victory.

The final never quite reached the fever-pitch of the semis.

French side FC Lezignan-Corbieres had made it past Russian champions Strela Kazan to take on Ironsides, who sneaked an early lead.

But the classy French side took control with converted tries either side of half-time, before York clawed it back to 12-10.

A late burst from either side would seal the win, with promising play from the Ironsides, but a breakaway from the fast French saw them finally seize victory.

"This has been an amazing experience for my young players" said Lezignan coach Patric Padrazani. "They have played against some excellent sides here, especially in the final, and this is a great day for rugby league across the world."

'The Best of the Rest' was the title seven clubs were left to battle it out for after the competition for the last sixteen began.

Tight games saw several go down to the wire to be decided by a golden point.

Leeds Akademics were the only other Yorkshire side in the competition, who made it through to the final where they lost a close-fought match to Zuid Holland, who lifted the York City Knights Shield.

Mason double for England

HEWORTH was treated to a classy display of international rugby league as England beat Scotland 28-20 at Elm Park Way in the opening match of the Amateur Four Nations Cup.

Having trailed 20-18 going into the final minutes, England, who included York Acorn's Matt Embleton among their number, snatched victory as they crossed for two tries through centre Rob Mason.

Earlier, Tom Howden (2), David Harries and Scott Eccles had scored tries for England, with Ben Lawrie finding his range with two conversion.

Neil Foster (2), Howard Cameron and Ian Gilmour registered tries for the Scots with two goals from Paddy McDonald completing the scoring.

York International 9s results
Fairfax Cup

Group 1: York Ironsides, York RUFC, Carlisle Centurions, Bridlington Bulls.

Group 2: London Koogas, Les Hussards de Paris, Bristol Sonics, Glasgow Bulls, Royal Air Force.

Group 2: Avignon, Leeds Akademiks, Worcester Saints, British Army.

Group 4: Strela Kazan, Zuid Holland, Durham Tigers, Belfast Bulls, Royal Navy.

Group 5: FC Lezignan-Corbieres, South Asia Bulls, Edinburgh Eagles, Cambridge Eagles, Lancaster.

Last Sixteen: York Ironsides 36, Lancaster 6; London Koogas 10, Edinburgh Eagles 8; Army 6, York Cavaliers 0; Navy 8, York RUFC 16; FC Lezignan-Corberieres 22, SO Avignon 6; Carlisle 4, Les Hussards de Paris 8; RAF 22, Worcester 10; Strela Kazan 30, South Asia Bulls 10.

Quarter-Finals: York Ironsides 30, London Koogas 4; Army 16, York RUFC 12 (decided by golden point); FC Lezignan Corberieres 22, Les Hussards de Paris 0; RAF 10, Strela Kazan 22.

Semi-Finals: York Ironsides 14, Army 0; FC Lezignan-Corberieres 12, Strela Kazan 4.

Final: FC Lezignan-Corberieres 18, York Ironsides 10.

York City Knights Shield (for sides that didn't make the last sixteen): Zuid Holland 18, Leeds Akademiks 16.

Amateur Four Nations Cup

England 28, Scotland 20.

Updated: 10:37 Monday, June 23, 2003