HAMPSHIRE under-20s put up a brave fight in the County Championship final at Twickenham yesterday.
In the end, holders Gloucestershire proved too powerful in a 62-30 success – but not before the underdogs had given them a real scare.
Hampshire were more than a match for their opponents, playing in their fourth successive final.
And it was only tired legs and quicker thought processes in the second half that made the score line so unflattering for Ed Neville’s side.
Gloucestershire were severely worried when Bath University fly-half Chris Lewis, originally from the Isle of Wight, fired three long-range penalties without reply in the opening nine minutes.
The favourites hit back with a penalty and a try.
But Hampshire showed their spirit by hitting back with two tries of their own, one from Havant winger Jaryd Robinson, to ease into a surprise 21-8 lead with a quarter of the game gone.
The game continued to flow from end to end but on the half-hour mark, the Gloucestershire forwards began to turn the screw and by half-time had notched three tries to lead 25-24 at the interval.
With his fifth successful kick out of six attempts, Lewis put Hampshire back into contention by closing the gap to just two points – before the power in the Gloucestershire scrum finally finished off their opponents.
In the final quarter, Hampshire had Nick Lynch sin-binned, allowing the holders to race away and give the final scoreline a flattering look.
Skipper Joe Atkinson, the only Hampshire representative in the England Counties under-20s side who contained nine Gloucestershire men, was delighted with the performance but disappointed it came to nothing in the end.
‘We came out of the blocks 100 per cent and I can’t fault the boys,’ said the Loughborough University and Petersfield player.
‘We blew Gloucestershire away and had the upper hand but they showed their strengths in the end.
‘But all credit to our boys. The result was no reflection on the game and the fact that half of the team will be available for us next year bodes well.’
Despite the scoreline, team manager Neville was a very proud man.
‘What a fantastic achievement just to get here,’ he said.
‘This team are an awesome bunch of young men who have done so well.
‘We were the better side for the first 15 to 20 minutes but silly errors either side of half-time and injuries to key players meant the game ran away from us.
‘If we had lost by 10 to 15 points, then that would have been a much fairer reflection.
Head coach Barry Bridgman had mixed feelings.
He said: ‘The score didn’t reflect the effort we put in, especially in the first half.
‘But it has been a fantastic year and this side have a lot still to come.’