Laund Hill are the Men’s Counties 1 North Shield Final Winners 2023

Huddersfield Laund Hill RUFC – 41 Newcastle Staffs RUFC – 36
Laund Hill produce the greatest comeback to bring home the silverware

Pictures (Charlie Gill)

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Match report (Dale Earnshaw)

Following last week’s battling home victory against Roundhegians in the semi-final, the location for this week’s game was the 25000 seater Darlington Arena for the final of the Papa John’s Counties 1 Shield. The opponents in the prestige event were Newcastle Staffs, a side who finished mid-table in their Counties 1 – Midland West league campaign. Despite arriving at the ground in brilliant sunshine, the weather took a turn for the worse just before kick-off and the game commenced in the pouring rain. However, this didn’t seem to deter the men in red and black as they looked to assert early dominance on the game. With the first few minutes being played in the Newcastle half, they were forced to concede a penalty at a breakdown just 25 metres from their own line. Up stepped Tom Egan to put his side into a 3-0 lead. Following this, the game became very scrappy with a mixture of cup final nerves and eagerness on show and neither side could get a foothold on the game as a kicking battle took over. Full-back Gareth Evans and Egan were more than up for the challenge and gave as good as they got to ensure that the game was not played close to their own line.

It became clear early on that the side with the most dominant pack could potentially hold the key. Fly-half James Fox expertly pulled the strings and some big drives from Tom Dalton and Ben Hill laid the foundations for possession to be built on. At the same time, flankers Finbar Drennan and Will Perfitt were doing their best to snuff out any Newcastle attack by getting to the breakdowns quickly. It was the Staffordshire side who had the first real chance with a break downfield. However, Laund Hill were able to turn the ball over and Ed Black made a 40 metre run deep into the Newcastle half. The cover tackle was good but things looked promising as Black looked to have secured possession, only for the referee to have adjudged that he had done so illegally and awarded a relieving penalty to Newcastle. From here, Newcastle started to apply pressure by having the best of possession and territory and when Corby Nasaqa was penalised for playing the ball on the floor, they decided to go for a shot at goal. The kick was pushed just wide, but it didn’t dent their spirits.

Just a minute later, they made a quick break down the right wing and as the ball went through a couple of pairs of hands, they looked certain to score in the corner. However, they did not account for never-say-die attitude of the Laund Hill defence that has been instilled into them all season by Defence Coach Matt Fell, and Tom Egan made a try-saving (potentially match-winning) tackle in the corner, forcing the Newcastle winger to knock-on in the process. With a quarter of the game gone, Newcastle were now in the ascendancy and were now bombarding the Laund Hill defence with drive after drive. Once again, Hill gave away a penalty in kickable range and this time the attempt was good to level the scores at 3-3. Ill-discipline was now becoming an issue for the Huddersfield side and the penalty count was creeping up, gifting Newcastle valuable possession. On the half-hour mark, two penalties in quick succession saw Newcastle march downfield and as they spread the ball wide to the left, they looked to be in for the first try of the day. Will Burns-Smith had other ideas though and even though he got a yellow card for a high-tackle on his opposite number, it did prevent the score at that moment in time. But the card looked to have come at a cost as from the resulting penalty, Newcastle kicked to touch and with a driving maul at the line-out forced their way over for a converted try. Now down to 14 men, Laund Hill looked out of sorts and their opponents broke downfield straight from the kick-off. Unable to clear their lines, Hill offered up another line-out to Newcastle in dangerous territory and once again they were able to turn it into points. This time the try was unconverted.

Shell-shocked by what had just happened, Laund Hill were clinging on and desperate for the half-time whistle to go. However, with their defence stretched, their opponents took advantage and switched play from one side of the field to the other to score another easy converted try in the corner. With the half now entering injury time, the team looked dead and buried at 22- 8 down. To have any chance in staging a remarkable comeback, the next score would be vital and it ideally needed to come within the next couple of minutes. And for some reason, it was the Staffordshire team who started to show some ill-discipline close to their own line, giving away a couple of penalties in quick succession. Electing not to go for goal to see out the half, the forwards took control with some powerful runs from prop Sean Barrett and Dalton allowing the ball to be fed to Harry Scholes to go over from short range. Unfortunately, Egan could not add the extras. With the scoreboard still heavily tipped in Newcastle’s favour, Head Coach James Tindall decided on making three substitutes at half-time, bringing on the experience of club captain Stuart Dyke and Jack Housley as well as the speed of flanker Myles Watson. And although they added much needed stability it was Newcastle that got the first try of the half with a lucky bounce from a kick falling into their winger’s hand for him to race away for another score. However, despite being behind, there was still plenty of time left on the clock and as long as Laund Hill could stay in touch, anything could happen. And as for most of the game, the Hill forwards looked to be in control whenever they had the ball. Added to this the power of centre partnership Tom Bulloch and Liam Haines, Newcastle knew that they wouldn’t have it their own way. But at times, it was their own ill-discipline that let them down. When winger Lewis Vernon was taken out in the air, the vociferous crowd recommended that the referee reach into his pocket to give the offender ten minutes in the bin. Not heeding their advice, the referee simply awarded a penalty but the kick was put deep into the Newcastle half. From the resulting line-out, the  ever-reliable catch and drive move was put on and hooker Hill was at the back to score a fine try. Could the comeback be really on? If Newcastle had anything to do with it, definitely not! And more or less straight away, they broke away down the left hand side of the field, getting incredibly close to the line. With just a couple of metres to go, the forwards crashed over the line to put Newcastle into a convincing 36-13 lead.

With 20 minutes to go, as a minority of less-than-enthusastic Laund Hill supporters headed to the exit, Coach Tindall had one last throw of the dice and threw on three of last year’s Colts team, Luke Earnshaw, Ashley Lockwood and Archie Roberts as well experienced prop Sam Burt. And with the backing of an incredibly loud crowd, the team appeared to go up through the gears. For the remaining 15 minutes, Newcastle did not have an answer for the sheer power and determination of the Laund Hill pack. Prop Burt earned two penalties at the scrum and the remainder of the game was played totally in the Newcastle half. With incessant drives from Black, Lockwood, Nasaqa and Hill, the Huddersfield side kept it tight, not allowing Newcastle a sniff of opportunity. Once they got close to the line, there was no stopping them as Black pounced over for a try. Egan added the conversion. Score 20-36. Everyone in the ground was getting excited by the possible finish, but most knew that the clock was on Newcastle’s side with just nine minutes to go. However, yet more penalties and another carbon-copy try from Black had people thinking… was this possible? Score 27-36 Time was really ticking away now but Laund Hill were playing with ferocity that hasn’t been seen all season and every time they had the ball, they looked like scoring. From a line-out in the Newcastle 22, they applied more pressure. Watson and Egan took the ball close to the line and Dyke and Hill took the ball inches closer to allow Lockwood to pick up the ball and dive over the line. Four minutes left. Score 34-36

All Newcastle had to do was to see the game out. However, they had no answer for the composure and sheer power of the Laund Hill pack. From the kick-off Nasaqa and Hill made valuable yards downfield and for the next few minutes the play ‘yo-yoed’ from either side of the ruck – one drive left, one drive right. Black and Lockwood were outstanding and did their fair share of the work, edging ever closer the line and when the ball dribbled loose at the back of a ruck, Lockwood picked it up and dived over for his second of the day, rounding off a move that started 30 phases ago deep in the Laund Hill half. The noise from the crowd lifted the roof and chants of YORKSHIRE, YORKSHIRE rang out. Score 41-36. As Egan converted the try, the clock ran down but there was time for one last
play. Newcastle hopefully kicked-off and Laund Hill nervously knocked on. All eyes turned to the referee to see if there was enough time for the Newcastle scrum. After consulting with the fourth official, the final whistle was blown on one of the greatest victories in the long history of the side from Laund Hill.

As the trophy was awarded and players had their photos taken with the masses of travelling supporters, praises were ringing around for how the side was able to turn the game on its head. In the final 15 minutes of the match, Newcastle only had the ball for three phases of possession. The Laund Hill attack and power was ruthless and very few teams would have been able to do any different. Credit should also be given to the coaching team for making the right substitutions at the right time. Magnanimous in defeat, the Newcastle officials admitted that their team could not live with the intensity that Laund Hill raised the game to in the final quarter. With the cheers of the crowd still in their ears, the players now deserved a well-earned break at the end of a long season full of mixed emotions. However, they know it won’t be long before pre-season training starts ahead of a hotly anticipated season in Yorkshire 2.

 

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