Staffordshire v Cumbria – Bill Beaumont Senior Mens County Championship Division 2 Pool 1
Staffs edged out Cumbria in a thriller at Battlestead Croft, Burton, to get their Championship season off to a great start in front of a big crowd on a sunny afternoon on Sunday.
The 22 man squad was made up of 13 Burton players, 4 from Stoke, 2 from Wolverhampton and 1 each from Leek, Ashbourne and Derby.
The coaching staff is headed by Rupert Hardern with assistants Chaz Bunting, Andy Appleyard and Tom Hughes and Blythe Fergusson as physio.
Cumbria had overnighted locally and were quick out of the blocks scoring 2 tries and 16 unanswered points in the opening 25 minutes with a blistering start that had the Staffs team struggling to defend their lines as the young Cumbrian scrum half, Oliver Rose, moved the points of attack. They won a penalty on 2 minutes for offside to take a 0-3 lead through the boot of Josh Ree and 5 minutes later left wing Joe Beaty went over in the corner for the first try. 0-8.
3 minutes later, full back Jamie McNaughton scored in the right corner following a slick move on the blindside and after 10 minutes the visitors had built up a 13 point lead and Staffs needed some inspiration quickly.
Non was forthcoming yet and Cumbria added a 26th penalty from Ree to consolidate a 0 -16 lead, nothing less than was deserved for their enterprise and work rate.
Staffs needed to control possession to take the sting out of the Cumbrian attack and finally as the half hour mark came, a series of offences from Cumbria led to a warning but then a yellow card came for a deliberate knock on. From the ensuing 5 metre lineout, the home forwards drove for the line. Eventually lock John Kirwan crashed over for a try near the posts and with Jamie Dutton adding the conversion Staffs were on the board on 33 minutes at 7-16.
From the kick off though Staffs conceded a penalty allowing Cumbria field position to launch another 22 metre line attack. Staffs were caught offside and Ree added 3 points to extend the lead on 38 minutes to 7-19.
As the half was about to end though, Staffs produced pressure in the Cumbria 22 and resulted in a penalty. From the lineout Staffs had a series of rucks across the 5-metre line from left to right and after sucking in the defence, scrum half Chaz Bunting threw a long pass left for Will Derry to outflank the last defender and score in the corner. Jamie Dutton kicked the difficult conversion, and the half time whistle blew with Staffs only 3 points in arrears at 14-19.
The 2nd half started brightly for Staffs, with good possession and from a lineout on the Cumbrian 22 on the right, the Staffs forwards drove into the 22. Chaz Bunting took the ball wide, kicked through and wing Will Sant collected and went over for a try in the righthand corner to bring Staffs level at 19 all on 47 minutes after the conversion just missed.
It was all Staffs now and they took the lead 5 minutes later after the ball was spun right and then the forwards took over to maul towards the line before Cal Donnelly crashed over for Staffs 4th try on the right. Jamie Dutton converted, and Staffs had completed the comeback to lead 26-19 on 52 minutes.
However, Cumbria regrouped and on 58 minutes had worked a try themselves from a lineout on the left inside the Staffs 22. A simple passing move across the line resulted in a try with the wing coming into the move to score. The conversion was good, and it was all square again at 26 all on 60 minutes.
The final quarter was to provide a thrilling end to the game, as the players started to tire in the hot sun, and it was Cumbria taking the initiative on 68 minutes with their 4th try. A good move on the right by the backs and an inside ball back to the scrum half saw him dart over. The conversion was good, and Cumbria led 26-33on 69 minutes.
Both sides played with some urgency now and Staffs scored next on 75 minutes after a good lineout and maul drive to the line which allowed hooker James Davies to score. The conversion just failed though, and Cumbria retained a narrow lead at 31-33.
That lead extended from the kick off as Cumbria won the ball back, drove into the Staffs 22 and won a penalty for offside. The kick, in front of the post was duly converted on 77 minutes to make the score 31-36.
As the game wound down, Staffs produced a ruck ball on the Cumbria 10 metre line. Simple passes right and then an injection of pace from Jamie Dutton saw him find a gap and his inside pass to Will Sant saw the Stoke wing sprint over for the try. Dutton’s conversion edged Staffs into a 38-36 lead with perhaps a minute to go. Staffs played out the game with ball in hand before despatching the ball off the field as the referee signalled no side.
It had been a very entertaining game and the result could have gone either way with both sides showing attacking intent, but it was the home side just prevailing.
Durham beat Northumberland on Saturday by 30-12 and lead the table on points difference from Staffordshire.
Next Saturday, Cumbria visit Northumberland as Staffordshire visit Durham to play the county side at Durham City RUFC. KO is 3pm for these round 2 matches.
On May 20th, the round 3 matches take place with Staffordshire at home to Northumberland. The game takes place at Stoke on Trent RUFC with a 3.00pm kick off.
Please come along and support the county as they bid for another crack at the Division 2 title.