LANCASHIRE completed a hat trick of Bill Beaumont Cup victories and carried off the County Championship for a record 21st time when they produced a powerful second-half display to get the better of a tenacious Hertfordshire, 32-23, at Twickenham.
“Hertfordshire came back at us in the last ten minutes to score a couple of tries that took the gloss of things a bit, but it was a very tough game,” said Lancashire Head Coach Mark Nelson: “We had a couple of really good moments, we stuck to our game plan and put pressure on them and scored some very good tries.
“Overall, it’s been a great campaign and to finish it off with a really good win at Twickenham over a very good side makes it all worthwhile.”
“Lancashire are more experienced than us and it showed at times, particularly in the way they took their chances,” said Hertfordshire’s Paul Turner. “If the tries we scored late on had come a bit earlier it could have been anybody’s game, but in fairness to them, they were a big side and they probably overpowered us a little bit.”
Both sides were true to the pre-match promise to keep the ball in hand at every opportunity, but that enterprising resolve was more than matched by the calibre of some robust defensive play which more than accounted for any guile or precision the two sides were able to conjure up in the first-half.
Ironically, the only try of the opening period on nine minutes stemmed from a delicate piece of footwork by Lancashire fly-half Alex Davies. He delayed a slide-rule chip into the Hertfordshire in-goal area with such precision that centre Matthew Riley had the simples of task to gather unchallenged and score.
Davies then added the conversion and a later penalty to keep the Red Rose men ahead 10-6 at the break, full-back Richard Gregg slotting a brace of penalties for Hertfordshire to keep them in contention.
They would have had an interval lead but for a fine piece of cover defending by Lancashire full-back Adam Armstrong, who executed a try-saving tackle on Stefan Liebenberg to perfection as the scrum-half was about to cross in the corner.
Two Gregg penalty attempts brought no reward for Hertfordshire soon after the restart and it was Lancashire who extended their lead with a second try after 47 minutes.
On this occasion the Hertfordshire tackling was seriously flawed as Hughes got into his stride on the right flank, two solid hand-offs giving him a clear run to the line and a chance to impress the England Counties contingent on the sidelines. Hughes leaves with them for Spain on Tuesday.
Joining him on that trip is Ollie Brennand, who also showed nimble finishing skills for another Lancashire try, lock Louis McGowan and replacement James Moore also swelling the Lancashire try tally to five .
Hertfordshire gained reward for their tenacity when flanker Laurence White and replacement Ollie Cooper-Miller crossed, Gregg converting the latter, and the game closed with replacement Jack Micans crossing for his team’s third try on the final whistle.
Hertfordshire: R Gregg (Old Albanian); J Tirrell (Letchworth GC), S Smart (Hertford), CLombaard (Old Albanian), I Crompton (Hertford); J Shanahan (Old Albanian), S Liebenberg (Old Albanian); J Ellershaw (Old Albanian), B MacNamee (Hertford) capt, R Schillaci (Hertford), C South (Hertford), D Shotton (Tring), L White (Old Albanian), C Rainbow (Hertford), J Corcoran (Hertford).
Replacements: W Cope (Old Albanian), A MacDougall (Hertford), O Day (Bishop’s Stortford), T MacDougall (Hertford), O Cooper-Miller (Old Albanian), Z Vinncombe (Old Albanian), T Newton (Tring)
Tries: White, Cooper-Miller, Micans. C: Gregg P: Gregg 2
Lancashire: A Armstrong (Barking); T Hughes (Preston Grasshoppers), C Briers (Fylde), M Riley (Sedgley Park), O Brennand (Fylde); A Davies (Plymouth Albion), S Collins (Fylde); D Birchall (Sedgley Park), A Loney (Rotherham Titans) capt, P Altham (Fylde), L McGowan (Rotherham Titans), G Rawlings (Longton), S Beaumont (Fylde), S McGinnis (Fylde), J Crous (Sedgley Park).
Replacements: S Griffiths (Liverpool St Helens), M Rylance (Caldy), G Ferguson (Fylde), P Arnold (Fylde), M Charters (Preston Grasshoppers), C Johnson (Huddersfield), James Moore (Vale of Lune).
Tries: Riley, Hughes, McGowan, Moore, Brennand. C: Davies 2 P: Davies
Referee: R Campbell (RFU)