After the disappointment of seeing Saracens end their season without a trophy I found myself at Twickenham for the second day in a row; this time with a media pass giving me one of the best seats in the house. I arrived just in time to see Kent pick up the County Championship Division 2 Plate having beaten Durham. The next game up was the Bill Beaumont Cup Final, being contested by Lancashire, in their 7th consecutive final and Cornwall, who played and were beaten by Lancashire last year. The Bill Beaumont Cup is the highest level of the County Championship; Lancashire finished their season at the top of the Division One North with a 100% record. Cornwall finished top of the Division One South beating Hertfordshire to book their place in the final. This was the 3rd meeting in the final between the 2 counties – Cornwall started the game hoping this would be 3rd time lucky.
It was clear in the build up that Cornwall had brought a lot of fans with them, very vocal ones at that, they had won the crowd participation trophy before the game started. Cornwall kicked off and in common with the teams playing in the RFU Finals day Lancashire played the ball out of their own half, their fly half Chris Johnson only kicking when they reached the half way line. The first scrum was set in the Lancashire half after Cornwall knocked on; Lancashire broke from the scrum but the ball was knocked on. The first penalty soon followed as a high tackle was made by Lancashire, the kick however missed the posts. A strong Cornwall attack followed but no centre Ryan Western dropped the ball as he was tackled. Lancashire cleared their lines after several plays following a penalty awarded against Cornwall for failing to roll away. A second penalty for offside saw Lancashire no 10 Chris Johnson put Lancashire ahead. Cornwall were awarded a penalty in return virtually straight from the kick off after a scrum was set and Lancashire were penalised. Cornwall full back Kieron Lewitt made no mistake taking the scores level.
Lancashire were awarded a penalty and chose to kick to touch, the move was a good one as Mark Rylance dove over the line to score the first try of the game. Chris Johnson converted the try to take the score to Cornwall 3 Lancashire 10. The game had consisted of a series of errors to a degree in the first 20 minutes; the ball was knocked on from the kick off giving Cornwall a great attacking platform just outside the Lancashire 22. Scrum half Greg Goodfellow made a great run, very reminiscent of Rob Burrows of Leeds Rhinos fame, the ball was subsequently knocked on but a penalty had been awarded for offside and Kieron Lewitt closed the gap. Amazingly nature intervened after the kick as a squirrel ran on causing a delay, first a fox! Now a squirrel! The fox on the pitch as an England v Scotland game was starting few years ago was nonchalant; the poor squirrel was petrified! The Lancashire players chased the poor thing off the pitch!
Cornwall were next to put points on the board as Greg Goodfellow and Lewis Finnegan combined; Finnegan ran up the wing, kicking the ball on, he pounced to touch down. There was a suspicion that his feet were in touch from where I was sitting but the try was given. Kieron Lewitt added the extras putting Cornwall ahead. A yellow card was shown to Lancashire’s 19 Paul Arnold after he slapped Tom Rawlings around the head. Kieron Lewitt scored the resulting penalty. A clear advantage Cornwall for 10 minutes. Replacement prop Jamal Ford-Robinson scored a brilliant try with 5 minutes remaining, after storming through to put his team further ahead, he looked more like a flanker than a big front row man as he surged forward. Lewitt hit the post with the conversion but scored! Cornwall 23 Lancashire 10. In spite of being down a man Lancashire had a good attacking opportunity but knocked on close to the line. Cornwall were awarded a penalty in the scrum and kicked to touch to finish the half.
The second half started as the first had finished with a penalty being awarded to Cornwall, they kicked to touch in a bid to increase their score; the ball was knocked on however. Rather than clear their lines Lancashire tried to play the ball out of their own half and knocked on giving Cornwall another good attacking platform, a penalty was awarded in the next play to allow Lewitt to stretch the lead further. Lancashire battered the Cornwall line and were awarded a try after a discussion between the officials, Evan Stewart scored the 5, Chris Johnson added the 2. Cornwall were awarded a penalty from the kick off after a high tackle, Lewitt missed on this occasion. Lancashire went on the attack showing a good deal of flair in their passing, their reward was a series of penalties. The first they kicked to touch, the second they chose a quick tap, Chris Johnson added to his personal tally as he scored in the corner; he missed what was a difficult kick. The scores with just over 20 minutes to go stood at Cornwall 26 Lancashire 22. That changed after a concerted attack by Lancashire, Cornwall defended well but left a gap, filled by Matthew Lampley who ran in to score. Johnson added the extras putting the men from the North back in the lead.
Lampley had another storming run but dropped the ball in the tackle, with no advantage gained a scrum was set for a Cornwall put in. The Lancashire Hooker was penalised in the scrum giving the chance for Cornwall to play in the Lancashire half, something they hadn’t done much in the second half. They knocked on however, after the lineout, giving the momentum back to Lancashire. A free kick went the way of Lancashire and Lamprey set off again, as the ball was spread the Cornwall defence took the player and ball into touch. Lancashire won the ball form the Cornwall throw in and the battering of the Cornwall line started again, this time Tom Burntwood was the man to touch down. Chris Johnson broke Cornish hearts a little more as he scored the conversion extending his teams’ lead to 10. With a little more than 5 minutes remaining Cornwall were awarded a penalty in the Lancashire half, needing 2 scores they kicked to touch. Lancashire saw yellow again as try scorer Tom Burntwood turned sinner and was sent from the pitch. Could the 14 men from the North hold out against the 15 from the South for the remaining 3 minutes? Cornwall knocked the ball on just inside the Lancashire half with just over a minute sealing the fate of the game, Lancashire were awarded a penalty in the scrum to leave no doubt. Another win for Lancashire, the 5th time in 6 years! And a very long journey home for Cornwall and their army of disappointed fans. Another highly enjoyable game played with true heart and spirit!