And derby day with Rugby Welsh
RFU Junior Vase
Rugby Lions 21
Rugby Lions will play at Twickenham for the first time ever after a superb second-half performance in front of a huge, hugely committed and very excited crowd, writes Alistair Bruten.
Lions produced a performance of such dogged perseverance that they were able to overcome a Goole side who may have been the better team but it was Rugby who had the men who wanted it more when push came to shove despite every muscle screaming for a rest.
Rugby were behind 14-17 at half time and few would have predicted a second half featuring just one converted try. Even fewer would have been brave enough to say it would be Lions who would score it and then hold out for the next 36 minutes.
Lions were behind for all the but the first and last four minutes of the first half and even that was an achievement against a very well drilled Goole side who seemed to be able to create threatening overlaps at will.
But Rugby’s defensive efforts, while not always clinical, were so determined that the dangerous Goole backs were restricted to just two tries in the whole game.
Early on, the teams tested each other out with Goole quickly establishing themselves as the more organised side with the slicker passing and surer handling and they opened the scoring on five minutes with a Chris Neal penalty. Lions had a chance to reply but Gareth Bott’s kick slid wide.
Rugby were repeatedly losing possession to Goole’s better work at breakdowns, which gave Lions more energy-sapping defending than wanted. And another turnover led to the first try being scored and converted by Neal for 0-10 after the first quarter.
But Rugby had not won six games against higher-ranked opposition compared with Goole’s two games to get to this national semi-final just to throw away the chance of playing at Twickenham.
As soon as Goole lock Chantry was carded for not rolling away, Lions pounced with a lineout drive completed by the hugely influential Ben Husthwaite, Bott’s conversion making it 7-10 on 26 minutes.
Moments later, Husthwaite produced one of his trademark marauding runs before sending in Bott diving in for a try he converted himself for 14-10.
Before the break, Goole’s assured passing again exposed Lions for James Shand to score with Neal’s conversion giving his side that slender interval lead.
The break saw fervent discussions on the game and the possible outcome among a crowd brilliantly catered for by the Rugby club with a variety of food and drink outlets. But super-fan Poll Green touching for luck her original Rugby supporters badge from the days of Lions playing Bath on an equal footing seemed to work its magic.
Rugby had been under pressure in early scrums but they had been progressively getting the better of the opposition pack and winning a penalty at the first scrum of the half looked a good omen given they also had dominance in the lineouts.
Lions pressed on towards the Goole tryline only to knock on. But at the ensuing scrum, the visitors lost control of the ball under their feet and there was the alert James Collins to scoop up the ball and dive over the line with Bott converting for 21-17 on 44 minutes.
What followed was the crucial and sensational minute of the match that perfectly encapsulated what make these Lions special.
First, totally committed Lions defence meant Goole’s right wing was forced into touch in the act of touching down by the flag near the cricket gate. A moment later, an exact mirror image saw the Goole left wing forced into touch in the act of touching down by the flag near the garages.
After that, it was less of a surprise that Rugby would be able to ensure the last minutes of the game would be played out at the Goole end of the pitch as the visitors would surely be unable to call on replacements as good as Lions had available to them.
But there could not have been a bigger shout of relief when excellent referee Phil Watters blew the final whistle to confirm Twickenham will become a true Rugby ground on May 4.
Rugby Lions: Whiteside, Ure, Renard, Bott, A Attenborough, Dignum, Collins, Kilburn, Riley, Nurse, Everton, Walton, Machon, Lockley, Husthwaite. Reps: Lawson, Edwards, Kimberley, Martin, Bennett, Scott, Easton
LIONS’ QUOTE BOX:
Lions Chairman David Owen: “Playing at Twickenham is a dream. Going back 18 months, we had no team, not one player, and now look where we are through the leadership of people like Rob Walton and Ben Husthwaite. What pleases me most this season is the team have been playing for the badge and the pride. I am immensely proud of our team and our club.”
Lions Director of Rugby Steve King: “Win or lose, Twickenham will be the perfect end to our season. We never ever thought we would get there. To win the league was a wholly unexpected achievement so reaching this final is frankly beyond belief.”
Lions Head Coach Robert Walton: “It is fantastic to be part of a squad who are willing to give 100% and more. They get hurt, get up and go again for a club that’s been on its knees. This is as much for the club and the supporters as it is for us.”
Lions Match Captain Ben Husthwaite: “We tend not to start well but today I knew that if we cut out the errors we would do well. We ended up winning the first phase contests and in the end they could not harm us. I am due to be contesting the World English Sporting Clay Shooting Championships that week but I will be playing for Rugby Lions at Twickenham.”
Rugby Welsh v Rugby Lions
Lions complete their triumphant Midlands 5 West (South) season when they play near-neighbours Rugby Welsh on Saturday at Alwyn Road (ko 3pm). They use the Black Horse in Bilton as their clubhouse.
Rugby Welsh took a long time to record their first league win but two of their three on-pitch wins came against the second and third teams in the league and the other one at Coventry Technical could well prove the victory that keeps them off the bottom of the table.
Lions are unlikely to be at full strength after the battle against Goole with Rob Walton the most likely absentee with a leg injury.
See the Rugby Lions club website for information about coach travel to Twickenham on 4 May.