Bill Beaumont County Championship UPDATE
East Midlands 22 – 24 Staffordshire
Warwickshire 14 – 43 Cumbria
On an afternoon of high drama with 3 teams at one point all thinking they will be at Twickenham in 2 weeks’ time, the final twist tipping that honour in favour of Staffordshire was Henry Knox’s 3rd minute of added time try and Chaz Bunting’s conversion to secure a famous win and a Division 2 Pool title for the first time in its history.
With 2 minutes of added time gone, East Midlands, Staffordshire and Cumbria all had 11 match points. Cumbria, however had the superior points difference of 26 with Staffordshire 21 and East Midlands 16.
One score was to make all the difference at Rushmills, home of Northampton Casuals, and unlikely as it may have seemed in the final minutes, Staffs conjured up an overlap on the right and the rest is history.
Staffs made 4 changes to the starting line up and 5 on the bench as injuries and unavailability took their toll but also allowed the squad to field tight head props for the first time.
Veteran Craig Wilson, Newport, joined James Davies and Ben Smith from Burton in the front row. Josh Bailey, Stoke, and Joe Gazzard, Burton, were at lock. George Boughey, Stoke, skipper Jack Neal, Burton and newcomer Josh Kent, Burton, made up the dynamic back row.
Half backs remained unchanged with Burton duo Jamie Dutton and Chaz Bunting. Centres also unchanged with Sam Clarke, Stoke, and Alex Nesbitt, Burton. Will Derry, Burton, moved up to start on the left wing with right wing, Henry Knox, Longton, and full back Harry Titley, Burton, making up the starting XV.
Tommie Collingwood, Burton, returned to the bench. Carl Williams, Stoke, and Ricko Bentley, Longton, retained their places and incoming was Mat Tivey, veteran prop from Burton, John Kirwan, Burton, Jamie Murray, Stoke and Will Midwinter, Leek, on debut.
On a glorious afternoon for rugby, Staffs defended 4 minutes’ worth of EM slick passing along their line one way then the other before Henry Knox intercepted and ran down the right wing to score by the posts. Chaz Bunting converted, and Staffs led 0-7 early.
14 minutes later and Staffs doubled their lead after a penalty gave them the opportunity for a lineout on the EM 22 on the left. Patient driving led to hooker James Davies scoring on the left and with Bunting’s superb conversion Staffs led 0-14.
EM came back into the game with their ball retention looking for mistakes and holes but Staffs discipline in defence was good until the 27th minutes when the scrum half took a quick tap penalty, linked with the centre who scored in the right corner. The conversion was unsuccessful, but EM reduced the deficit to 5-14.
EM completed their come back on 34 minutes with another quick penalty from the scrum half following a Staffs offside infringement in their 22. He scurried through the gap and scored under the posts.
The conversion was good, and the half time whistle blew with the game in the balance at 12-14.
10 minutes into the 2nd half and EM scored their 3rd try. This time it was a catch and drive from the lineout which went unconverted but moved EM into the lead for the first time at 17-14.
On 56 minutes, Staffs were awarded a penalty for not rolling and Bunting kicked the goal to level the scores at 17 all.
As the final 10 minutes approached, with EM on the attack, Josh Kent was yellow carded for a late tackle and that led to sustained pressure and a bonus point try on the left as Staffs ran out of defenders. The conversion was crucial but was missed and so at 22-17, Staffs had to see out the remaining yellow card time and try and score in added time.
It was a tall ask as EM had dominated possession late in the half but somehow the Staffs boys worked their way up field, won a ruck outside the EM 22. Bunting skirted to the blind side, drew his man laid the perfect pass to Henry Knox and the wing sprinted in towards the posts for a superb counterattack try. Chaz Bunting kicked the conversion to hand Staffs the lead back at 22-24.
Still time for another twist but Staffs weren’t about to let the game go at this point and they ended the game snuffing EM out of possession and claiming a famous win.
The win secured the top spot because otherwise Cumbria would have eclipsed both sides in a dramatic end to the Pool.
Head coach Rupert Hardern gave his match huddle in Morning Suit afterwards as he was off to a wedding and that was another first on an afternoon of superlatives for the Staffordshire Men’s squad.
Twickenham next on Saturday June 4th with an 11am kick off against Pool 2 winners, Somerset, a county we don’t think Staffordshire has played before.
Come and support the county team on an historic occasion as they continue their amazing 2022 run.