- Berkshire surge sinks Red Rose challenge
- Cheshire fightback derails Kent dominance
Photo: RFU Archive
Berkshire and Cheshire will contest the final of this season’s RFU National Under 20 Championship at Twickenham on Saturday, May 4, 2013 after they came through two highly entertaining and competitive semi-finals on Sunday (April 21) against Lancashire and Kent respectively.
While Berkshire claimed their place at Twickenham with an eight-try display and a 52-22 victory, it was their defensive quality when Lancashire turned the screw for a prolonged first-half spell that provided the foundation for the win.
“We had a dream start to the game when we scored almost from the kick-off and we ended the half with another crucial try that put us ahead at half-time,” said team manager Mark Keogh. “But after that early try we spent at least half an hour in our own half when we were struggling to get the ball and Lancashire threw everything at us.
“The pressure was pretty relentless and finally Jak Rossiter was yellow-carded at a breakdown after we had conceded a number of penalties. Lancashire were able to exploit that with a converted try and went ahead and but for some really good defending, we could easily have conceded more tries.
“But we hit back quickly to regain the lead before the interval, which must have left Lancashire sick as the proverbial parrot given the amount of possession and opportunities they had.
“Obviously our coaching staff got the message about what we needed to do across to our players very clearly at half-time because when we came back, we immediately produced an intensity that Lancashire just couldn’t live with.”
Worthing hooker Ben Henderson led the Berkshire try list with a hat-trick, while top points scorer was University of West England scrum half James Brooks, who collected 17 points from a try and six conversions.
Fly half Joe Murphy (Abbey RFC), wings Rossiter (Richmond RFC) and Isaac Kibirige (Reading University) and prop Connor Diplock (Reading University) completed the Berkshire try tally.
Lancashire felt they had enough momentum to launch a second-half rally when they trailed 14-10 at the interval, but that optimism was swiftly punctured when their opponents hit them with three tries and 19 points in six minutes soon after the restart.
There was no way back for the Red Rose men after that crucial salvo and though they managed tries by flanker Oliver Trippier (Fylde) and centre Mike Simmons (Fylde) and an Oliver Farley conversion to add to his goal from the first-half touchdown by Anthony Elliott (Preston Grasshoppers), getting back into contention was beyond them once Berkshire lifted the tempo.
“Berkshire scored from the first kick-off, but we dominated for most of the first-half to lead 10-7 before Berkshire went 14-10 ahead at half-time,” said Coach Paul Arnold. “I still thought at that point that we could rescue the situation because although we went in at half-time behind, we’d had the upper hand for most of the first period.
“The three-try burst knocked the stuffing out of us. We knew they were going to be good and well-drilled and while there wasn’t a 30-point margin between the teams in terms of talent, they deserved the win.
“From our perspective, I’m proud of the way they’ve played to get to the semis and the way they stuck to the challenge when Berkshire had the game won. But over half of the side are still available for next season and what we’ve learned this time will stand us in good stead for another campaign.”
Second-half turnaround seals Cheshire success
Kent had to endure the most painful of experiences at Sale FC when they had a trip to Twickenham denied them by a remarkable second-half Cheshire fightback, which saw them translate a 17-0 half-time deficit into a 24-17 victory.
Kent were the dominant force throughout the first half at Heywood Road, dominating possession and territory and scoring three tries through Sevenoaks RFC flanker Will de Smith, centre Aiden Moss (Canterbury RFC) and his club-mate, flanker Jesse Liston, with full back Ryan Redman (Medway RFC) adding one conversion.
At the midway point, Kent seemed to be holding all the aces and it was a testament to the tenacity of the Cheshire side that they found enough resolve to wrest the initiative and the momentum from the visitors.
But once prop Tom Concu (Sandbach RFC) had bundled in at the corner and centre Mike Barlow (Stockport) had added a fine conversion, the balance of the game turned dramatically in the home side’s favour.
Forced into a defensive role for the first time, Kent’s energy evaporated and the wave of Cheshire confidence which followed brought tries by wingman Louis Taylor and Yates, now on the wing after Macclesfield’s George Drury had taken over at No 9 to add extra sharpness to the Cheshire effort.
The crucial score came in the fifth minute of added time when a prolonged forward assault finally provided Clifton RFC full back Marcus Webber with enough space to fend off the last defender and cross for his side’s fourth try. By that stage, Barlow’s conversion from wide out was almost a formality.
“At half-time we hadn’t had any ball and we’d allowed Kent to dictate the tempo – basically we hadn’t turned up,” said Cheshire coach Giles Heagerty. “We knew that we had the wind and the slope in our favour in the second half and we had to sort out our work at the contact area and play in the right parts of the field.
“We did that and once we got on to the front foot we showed what we could do. You could see with 20 minutes to go that Kent were tired and we are fortunate to have a very strong bench, which enabled us to bring on subs who made a big difference. Momentum and pressure are really big things in semi-finals and I’m really pleased for the boys that they pulled it off.”
“Semi-finals are the worst place to lose,” said Kent’s Head Coach Taff Gwilliam. “It was a case of so near, yet so far. I’m really proud of the boys, who’ve done great to get here on what has been a roller-coaster ride.
“We started well and executed nicely in the first half, but eventually we ran out of steam. Credit to Cheshire, they never gave up, even when they were 17-0 down, and kept coming back. At the end of the day, full credit to them – they deserved the victory.”