Sunday, April 30, 2006
Northumberland and Yorkshire will meet in the final of the National Under 20 Championship at Twickenham on May 29 after they came through their semi-finals today in contrasting styles.
Northumberland were involved in their first semi-final appearance in the competition against Devon at Plymouth Albion and what a thriller it proved to be, the North East side getting home 33-32 in a nail-biting contest that went to the last kick of the game.
The try in injury time by West Country Warriors centre Aaran Cruikshanks put the home side within a point of Northumberland, but Bath full-back Ben Lovell could not add a difficult conversion from wide out and the North East side were through.
West Country Warriors wing John Marlin but Devon ahead after 6 minutes with a try, but three penalties from Northumbria University fly-half Marcus Jackson edged his side ahead before a 60-yard interception try from left wing James Rastal (Tynedale) gave the visitors some breathing space.
It was short lived, however, as flanker Tom Ireland (West Country Warriors) was driven over from a maul to make the half-time score 16-10.
A penalty by Lovell cut the deficit, but a try by Northumbria University centre Fraser Shaw, converted by Jackson, gave the visitors a 23-13 advantage.
The game then swung in Devon's favour as tries by fly-half Joe Wearne (Cinderford) and scrum-half Matt Newman (West Country Warriors) and two conversions from Lovell put them ahead at 27-23.
A Jackson penalty was then followed by a try from Tynedale full-back Jack Harrison, Jackson adding the conversion in the last minute of normal time to set up the frantic finale.
There was no such excitement at Bradford & Bingley, where Yorkshire claimed their place in the final once again with a 34-11 win over Oxfordshire.
The White Rose youngsters carried far too much power up front to allow the visitors to maintain either their 53-points-per-game record or a defensive statistic that had seen them arrive in the semis without conceding a try.
While they opened the scoring with a fine penalty from their No 8 and captain Justin Paikes, Yorkshire quickly replied with a penalty from Doncaster scrum-half Dan Storey and then collected tries by wingman Sam Booth (West Park Leeds) and flankers James Smith (Sandal) and Damien Sangster (Durham University), Storey converting twice to give the home side a 22-3 half-time lead.
Having reached that position without really being extended, Yorkshire appeared to take their foot off the pedal in the second-half, Oxfordshire sticking gamely to the challenge and cutting the deficit with a try and penalty from Paikes.
Tries by No 8 James Waterhouse (Rotherham/Sheffield University) and replacement lock Liam O'Neill (Leeds University) and a Storey conversion, however, saw Yorkshire safely through.
"I thought we over-complicated things in the first-half, but because we were so dominant up front we got on top," said coach Bob Hood. "Things didn't go at all according to plan in the second-half, when we were aiming to simplify things. We wanted to see how they could cope with being put under pressure having got this far without much trouble and to be fair, they did OK and defended very well in the middle. But they just couldn't cope with our forward strength.
"But I'm happy - semi-finals are never pretty."
One aspect of the final Hood and his team will not need reminding about is the fact that last season Yorkshire beat Cheshire in the Northern group of games, only to lose to them at Twickenham in the final.
The White Rose lads were involved in a keen tussle against Northumberland in Yorkshire earlier this season and they will be keen to ensure that lightning does not strike in the same place twice.