- Losing bonus point enough to edge out NLD
- Unbeaten Gloucestershire top Pool Two
North Midlands booked their place in the National Under 20 Championship quarter-finals despite being edged out 20-16 by Gloucestershire at Cinderford’s Dockham Road ground on Sunday.
North Midlands needed at least a losing bonus point from their final Pool Two match to progress to the knockout stages and a second half try from flanker Gino Belmonte and two penalties from his Bromsgrove club-mate Taki Osaka ensured that they got it.
The bonus point was enough to take North Midlands above Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire on points difference. North Midlands will now travel to play the winners of Pool One on April 7 while Gloucestershire, who were unbeaten in their three pool matches, will host the Pool One runners-up.
North Midlands were handicapped by the late withdrawal of five players on the morning of the match, which meant they were forced to name a makeshift back division.
They also fell behind to a third-minute penalty from Gloucestershire fly half and captain Jack Skelton (Filton College) but recovered quickly.
Centre Chris Fensome (Birmingham & Solihull) crossed from a quickly-taken tapped penalty but left wing Osaka was off-target with the conversion attempt.
North Midlands also failed to profit when Gloucestershire were reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of hooker Dean Brooker (Hartpury College) for handling in a ruck.
Instead Gloucestershire regained the lead with a second penalty from Skelton and extended it when full back Taylor Stephens (Dings Crusaders) stripped Belmonte of possession near half-way.
Luke Crunden (Cinderford), on as a temporary replacement for Brooker, galloped away and put scrum half Sam Watkins (UWIC) over for the try, which Skelton improved.
Osaka was wide with a penalty attempt and North Midlands again missed important tackles when Gloucestershire launched another attack in the final minute of the first half. Left wing Auguy Slowak (Filton College) crossed on the overlap and the accurate Skelton converted from far out.
North Midlands made life difficult for themselves by conceding soft penalties early in the second half, which led to replacement hooker Will Greenwood (Kings Norton) being yellow-carded.
North Midlands managed to deny Gloucestershire any points while they were down to 14 men and they reduced the deficit soon after they were restored to a full complement when Belmonte crossed to round off a period of sustained pressure midway through the second half.
Osaka was off-target with the conversion but he landed an important penalty five minutes later, after Gloucestershire drifted offside, which was quickly followed by another to give North Midlands the bonus point they required.