Jason Leonard U20 County Championship – Midlands Divisional final
Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire U20 29 v 33 Staffordshire U20
Staffordshire travelled to Derby RFC on Sunday 7th May for the Midlands Divisional Final against NLD who finished second in their pool but had been elevated to winners following East Midland receiving points deductions from the RFU. It was a warm sunny spring day and following the Kings Coronation the day before a Royal battle was expected and duly delivered.
Both teams went through a long and thorough warm up on the fast AGP surface and looked to be ready and up for the contest as they retired to the dressing room ahead of the Kick Off. Referee Rory Fisher from Warwickshire was the man in charge ably supported the two NLD Assistant referees. Staffordshire were out on the pitch first quickly followed by the home side to the applause of both sets of supporters.
Staffordshire fly Half Ollie Rowbery got the game underway with his kick being well fielded by the home side who were immediately awarded a penalty for the visitors not releasing in the tackle allowing them to clear their lines up to halfway.
The next 7 minutes or so saw some end-to-end rugby played at a blistering pace with both sides forwards and backs linking up and showing some great skills in the offload and turnovers. NLD were first to break the deadlock when Staffordshire spilt the ball on the opposition 10m line which was collected and after two quick phases moved it wide to their right winger. He then showed fantastic pace to outstrip the cover defence and a couple of steps took him through the remaining defenders to score under the posts. The conversion was good and NLD Led 7-0.
The visitors were next on the scoresheet following a scrum on the halfway Centre Sam Clarke found a gap before being tackled, the loose pass was collected by Joel Finnemore who moved it on to Will Bailey and then John Carr, whose pass back inside to Bailey saw him over in the left-hand corner. Rowbery added the conversion to level the score at 7-7.
On the 26th minute following a penalty at the scrum NLD kicked to the corner and secured good lineout ball which was released down the backs. A neat cross kick to the corner saw the ball fielded by the hosts right winger and fed back into the supporting player who went over the line. The conversion slid wide NLD 12 Staffs 7.
The home side were then awarded a penalty 25m out just to the left of the posts when the Staffs defence were caught off-side which also slid wide to the relief of the visitors. Staffordshire then had a penalty of there own shortly after the restart and kicked to the corner. From the lineout the visitors quickly recycled the ruck and Tom Gibson took the ball on the charge to crash over the line just to the left of the uprights. The conversion was added to give Staffs the lead 12-14 for the first time in the match.
The lead was short lived as the hosts had the last word in the run up to half time when from a lineout 10m out the big forwards trundled towards the Staffs line with their flanker shearing off the side to go over unopposed in the left-hand corner. The conversion was missed Half Time NLD 17 Staffordshire 14.
NLD returned to the dressing room at Half-Time while Staffordshire remained on the pitch. In a bit of gamesmanship, the hosts used the absolute maximum 10 minutes before returning to the field leaving referee Fisher looking at watch as they emerged. It however seemed to have the opposite affect and Staffordshire came out on fire for the start of the second period. NLD quickly conceded a penalty for offside in the midfield which Staffs kicked to the corner. Half Time replacements Harvey Hughes and Cameron Maughan had come into the pack for Danny Griffin and Ben Clay with Tom Coton moving to hooker and were straight into action in the lineout on the 22 from the kick. The ball was safely caught, and the pack began to trundle towards the home line. As the momentum slowed the ball was moved down the backs to the opposite wing where the winger was brought down before the Staffs forwards recycled the ball and Tom Coton was driven over the line for the next score, the conversion was added NLD 17 Staffordshire 21.
Staffordshire were straight back at it from the restart with firstly Tom Coton and then Tom Gibson breaking tackles and storming up the pitch. Gibson handed the ball off to will Bailey and then Joe Shacklock who was dragged down over the line only to have the ball knocked out of his hand in the tackle for a goal line dropout. Staffordshire fielded the ball well from the dropout and moved it wide to the left wing who was shepherded into touch. The NLD lineout misfunctioned and the visitors secured the ball and drove at the heart of the defence forcing them to concede a penalty 15m out just to the left of the posts. Staffordshire opted not to take the points choosing instead to kick for the corner. The lineout was taken cleanly, and Tom Gibson peeled off the back of the maul to dive over the line for his second try. The conversion slid wide NLD 17 Staffordshire 26.
In what seemed like a game of tennis, NLD were next on the scoresheet, 13 minutes into the half after some good work from the forwards there second row went over in the left-hand corner to secure their 4th try which was not converted to bring the score to NLD 22 Staffordshire 26.
The home side then put together a sustained period of pressure seeing them camped in the Staffordshire 22 with the forwards going through 5 or 6 phases before hooker Tom Coton saw yellow for offside on about the 26th minute of the half. Despite losing a man the visitors managed to repel the onslaught clearing up field and being awarded a penalty which they opted to kick at goal, sadly the attempt drifted wide. Ben Clay came back on to hooker to replace the carded Coton and winger John Carr left the field to accommodate the change. So, when NLD got some good ball in Midfield they moved it quickly left and with the extra man stretching the cover the winger went over in the corner despite the tackle from the Full Back Bob Clews. The conversion was good taking the home side in the lead 29-26.
With only minutes to go Staffordshire knew they had to pull something out of the bag Gregor Hayes came on for Joe Shacklock and Tom Coton’s 10 minutes in the bin ended, Ben Clay leaving the field and John Carr coming back onto the wing. Tom Coton was quickly back into his stride taking a lovely tip pass in midfield and running 50m only to be pulled down agonisingly short of the line. From the ruck the ball was spun out to the winger who was bustled into touch. The NLD lineout again misfunctioned and Callum Oakden stole the ball at the front of the line and the visitors drove for the try line with Rhys Williams emerging with the ball for a well earned try. Rowbery added the extras and the boys in green and white held out for the last 90 seconds with Will Bailey clearing it with the ref that time was up and punting the ball into the crowd.
Final Score NLD 29 Staffordshire 33
Tries: Will Bailey, Tom Gibson (2), Tom Coton, Rhys Williams. Conversions Ollie Rowbery (4)