Hampshire are heading for a second successive Twickenham final after beating Warwickshire 39-10 in the RFU County Championship at Hooks Lane in Havant.
They booked their place with a storming second-half performance and will meet Leicestershire in the tier-two showdown next Sunday, following England’s clash with the Barbarians.
It is fine achievement – coming just 12 months after beating Staffordshire at Twickenham in the tier-three final.
Hampshire coach Ian Chandler admits having to pinch himself to believe what the team has achieved.
‘The last two years have been somewhat surreal,’ he said.
‘If anyone had suggested when we set out two years ago that Hampshire would appear in two Twickenham finals, we would have thought them mad.
‘It is all a bit nuts really but we thoroughly deserve to be there.
‘This was probably our least-convincing performance of them all, though, and in the first half we were distinctly average.
‘I think that was down to the pressure because for the first time we were regarded as favourites.
‘We didn’t look anything like the side we did in our opening two games.
‘Instead of playing our natural game, we allowed ourselves to get dragged into a more forward-orientated contest.
‘We were not offloading the ball before contact – instead opting to try to force the gaps.
‘Twickenham was not even on the horizon when we were losing at half-time.
‘A frank and full discussion was needed during half-time – with the players leading the way.’
Hampshire started well but with the visitors displaying strong defence, the game became scrappy with little flow.
The hosts fell behind against the run of play – conceding a converted try after trying to run the ball out from their own five-metre line.
With tension creeping into the contest, Warwickshire were reduced to 14 men on the half-hour with their prop forward sent off for punching.
‘I don’t think the sending off helped our cause at that point and was probably the worst thing that could have happened,’ added Chandler.
‘We might have thought it was going to be easier after that.’
The depleted visitors stretched their lead with a penalty before the hosts got a crucial score.
Kemp Price forced his way over for a catch-and-drive try from a lineout – with Pierre Alex-Clark adding the conversion.
An Alex-Clark penalty at the start of the second half levelled the scores and from that point Hampshire took charge.
Further tries followed from replacement prop Dan Sargent, centre Freddie Gleadowe, a second for Price and then two quick-fire tries from winger Alex Everett-Bolter.
‘We can now look forward to another exciting day out at Twickenham,’ said Chandler.
‘Leicestershire await us and we know they will present a monumental task.
‘They will be odds-on favourites but that means we can go there under no pressure.’
Hampshire: Sutherland, Everett-Bolter, Gleadowe, Dugan Wayne, Carr, Alex-Clark, Dugan Wes, Marks, Snowden, Wilkie, Janes, Rees, Perkins, Price, Hart. Replacements: Hibdige, Sargent, Worrall, Stonehill, Farnes, Dolbear, Brierley