Lancashire triumph at Eastern Counties: Mark Nelson comments

The Lancashire senior squad travelled to Cambridge to play Eastern Counties in the second Northern Group game of the Sir Bill Beaumont County Championship Cup. They put in an excellent display, especially in the 2nd half, and came away with a nine try, 7-57 victory which put them in poll position to reach the Final at Twickenham on 2nd June.

The 1st half was tight and competitive, with both teams trying to establish dominance. Counties had a spine of National One players from Cambridge in their ranks and were proving no pushovers.

Towards the end of the first quarter, Lancashire took the lead with a try by hooker Danny Maher. The former Fleetwood and Fylde player has had a startling two seasons with Sedgley Park and carried his frequent try scoring from National Two into county rugby. Fly-half Chris Johnson was unable to add the conversion in a tricky wind.

In the closing minute of the half, the Red Rose county scored again, this time through Fylde centre Connor Wilkinson. Once again, Johnson was unable to kick the conversion and Lancashire’s 0-10 advantage at the half-time whistle was hardly conclusive.

The 2nd half was a different story. An early try by Scott Rawlings, now at Longton but formerly with Fylde, set the scene. Chris Johnson’s conversion put his side 0-17 up.

Lancashire’s Head Coach, Mark Nelson, also heads up the coaching at North Premier club Rossendale. One of his own players, hooker turned flanker Phill Mills, notched the fourth and bonus point earning try shortly afterwards.

The flood gates opened as Lancashire over powered the home side. Who better to exploit territory and possession than speedster Tom Carleton? This was only Carleton’s second senior county game and he raced clear to score a fine try.

In the 60th minute it was number 8 Hallam Chapman’s turn to get his name on the score sheet next and Johnson’s conversion took his side well clear at 0-36.

The tries kept coming at regular intervals. The impressive Sale FC flanker Adam Aigbokhae scored his first try and Steve Collins, who had replaced Johnson by then, added the extras to extend the lead to 0-43.

In the 66th minute Eastern Counties opened their account with a try by winger Sam Yawayawa, converted by Ben Penfold, by but it was too little, too late at 7-43.

This was emphasised minutes later when Connor Wilkinson claimed his second try and Aigbokhae completed his brace in the last few minutes. A final score line of 7-57 was impressive by any standards as Lancashire had rattled up 47 2nd half points. Fylde youngsters, Ben Gregory and Elliot Horner, made their senior county debuts as 2nd half replacements.

Attention now switches to the Woodlands next Saturday when Lancashire face their old foe Yorkshire in what promises to a right royal Roses battle. Cheshire’s tense 20-21 win against the White Rose county at Huddersfield challenges Lancashire’s Final ambitions. Given their huge 130 points haul in their two games to date, a Lancashire win at the Woodlands will almost certainly take them to yet another Twickenham Final.

Lancashire Head Coach Mark Nelson said: “We faced a team with a dogged and committed defence which we found hard to break down in the first half. However, we refocused at the break and the tries came in the second period. The players performance, against strong opposition, was excellent and that was reflected in the final score line.

“A pleasing aspect is the emergence of a new breed of talent which has come through the county age group ranks and Lancashire Royals into the senior side. There have been a large number of new county ties – awarded on first appearance – and this is great for the future. It was also former Fylde players Steve Collins and Chris Johnson’s 30th game which demonstrates the balance between youth and experience.

“We have a massive challenge ahead of us now with Yorkshire at the Woodlands this weekend. It is all to play for with three sides in contention for the right to represent the North Section at Twickenham in the Final.” .

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Photo: Fylde players in the Lancashire squad: front row – Connor Wilkinson & Cameron Crampton. Back row – r to l – Ben Gregory, Tom Grimes, Elliot Horner, Jacob Conner and Tom Carleton. Plus far left, Sedgley Tigers’ Hallam Chapman.

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