A last minute Chris Johnson penalty ensured Lancashire will be at Twickenham next weekend playing in their fifth straight County Championship Final. The penalty was not to win the game but to secure a losing bonus point at Macclesfield against Cheshire who won the game 20-13. The losing bonus point saw Lancashire finish top of the North section of the competition with 11 points to Cheshire’s 10.
A special mention must go to the lads form Hoppers who made up a large part of the squad. Phil Mills, Gareth Gore, Ally Murray, Dominic Moon, Jack Ward, Phil Baines and Sean Taylor have all been involved in the first three matches and will be hoping to be selected for the final next week.
The final is at Twickenham next Saturday with a 3.15pm kick off after England have taken on the Barbarians.
Courtesy of Peter Elliot, Lancashire RFU
Cheshire 20 Lancashire 13
Lancashire qualified for the Bill Beaumont County Championship Cup final with a late Chris Johnson penalty goal to earn the losing bonus point to confirm top spot in Division One North.
Early concerted pressure on the Cheshire line earned only one converted first-half try from Nick Royle and a Chris Johnson penalty goal, while the second half saw a disjointed performance, where the home side were able to take advantage of penalties, with Mike Barlow kicking five, to add to Jon Sewell’s drive-over try early in the second period.
Head coach Mark Nelson reflected afterwards: “That was a job done to be honest. It was very much like a tough away league match. It was a very dogged performance. Cheshire were really up for it, because they had nothing to lose really,” he said.
“It was very greasy conditions, the ball spilled a lot, and they threw a lot of players into contact. You have got to give them credit, they won the game. But we are off to Twickenham. If you had given me the equation that we would get a losing bonus point before the game, I would have taken it.
“As I keep saying to everybody, this is the fifth year on the trot that Lancashire have got to Twickenham, and that doesn’t happen by accident. This year at Durham, there were fifteen new ties awarded. Our success this year so far is down to those boys that won up at Hartlepool Rovers, and that has set us on our way. Sadly some of those boys who set us on our way haven’t featured later on, but it is their efforts that have made the trip possible.
“I would like to give those lads who played at Durham and subsequently didn’t make it through tough selections for the other games, a lot of credit for that.”
A late change to the team saw Phil Baines start in place of Chris Briers at outside centre, as a result of a knee injury to the Fylde player.
Cheshire had threatened the Lancashire line from the kick-off, but after clearing their lines, they camped in the Cheshire half for the next twenty minutes, although couldn’t unlock the home side’s defensive line.
Johnson and Barlow traded penalties before Royle caught a good bounce from Johnson’s clever cross-kick after half an hour to give Lancashire their only try of the day. Johnson converted, before Barlow added a second penalty as the half was coming to a close.
Lancashire went into the break with a numerical advantage after Cheshire flanker Mike Finnemore was yellow-carded in the last passage of play, but after the restart, it was Cheshire who were able to power over the line, as Jon Sewell was driven over the line to put his side into an 11-10 lead.
Barlow was unable to convert, but kicked his side further ahead with three more penalties in the latter stages of the game. Those scores gave the home side a ten-point lead, but Johnson converted a late penalty to earn his side the bonus point that gave them the point they needed to lead the group.
Lancashire now meet Cornwall in the Bill Beaumont Cup final. This will be their third meeting in the County Championship final. Their first meeting was in 1969 at Redruth, with Lancashire winning 11-9, while they last faced each other in the 1992 final at Twickenham with the Red Rose siide victorious again by 9-6.
Lancashire team –
15 Sean Taylor (Preston Grasshoppers) 14 Nick Royle (Vale of Lune) 13 Phil Baines (Preston Grasshoppers) 12 Jack Ward (Preston Grasshoppers) 11 Andy Riley (Sedgley Park) 10 Chris Johnson (Fylde) 9 Tom Webb (Fylde); 1 Dan Birchall (Fylde) 2 Phil Mills (Preston Grasshoppers) 3 Simon Griffiths (Fylde) 4 Louis McGowan (Sedgley Park) (Captain) 5 Gareth Gore (Preston Grasshoppers) 6 Jon Nugent (Stade Dijon) 7 Steve McGinnis (Fylde) 8 Dominic Moon (Preston Grasshoppers)
16 Pete Altham (Fylde) 17 Mark Rylance (Caldy) 18 Paul Arnold (Fylde) 19 Evan Stewart (Fylde) 20 James Smith (Caldy) 21 Chris Biers (Fylde) 22 Steve Collins (Sedgley Park)
Try: Royle 28
Conversion: Johnson 28
Penalty Goals: Johnson 19 80