Brave Hampshire overcame a powerful Staffordshire challenge to win the RFU County Championship Shield at Twickenham.
A combination of magnificent defence and superb opportunism proved enough to see Hampshire home to a deserved 33-11 win against Staffordshire.
Coach Ian Chandler felt it was the camaraderie, spirit and ability of the Hampshire squad that saw them through.
‘To be fair, Staffordshire battered us in the first half but we hung in there,’ he said.
‘They pushed us to the limit but we soaked up everything they threw at us.
‘When we got our chances we took them in a ruthless fashion.
‘We had no right to be 12-0 up at half-time.’
In the opening 20 minutes Hampshire had very little possession and found themselves pinned back in defence.
Staffordshire squandered three penalty attempts and it was the south coast side who took the lead on 22 minutes – totally against the run of play.
With the midlands outfit pressing in the Hampshire 22, outside-half Pierre-Alex Clark intercepted to run the length of the pitch to score the game’s opening try.
Nine minutes before the break it was the deadly Dugan brothers who combined to extend the lead.
With Staffordshire building nicely on their rivals’ 22, scrum-half Wes Dugan won possession and swivelled away into a gap.
When he reached halfway he fired in a long pass which brother Wayne scooped up and powered past two defenders to score in the corner.
Alex Sutherland fired the conversion between the posts and Hampshire held an unlikely lead at the halfway stage.
At the start of the second half Staffordshire increased their tempo and by the hour mark had reduced the deficit to one point (12-11) with a converted try and a penalty.
At that stage it looked ominous for Hampshire as all the momentum was with their opponents.
However, not for the first time in the campaign it was one of the Dugans who came to the rescue.
Scum-half and captain Wes took matters into his own hands, breaking a tackle and bursting to the line for Hampshire’s third try.
Sutherland added the conversion and once again Chandler’s side had put some daylight between themselves and the opposition.
From that point onwards Hampshire never looked back as they imposed themselves on the increasingly-tiring Staffordshire side.
Within five minutes Clark made another excellent break to feed centre Joel Knight for another try, with Robbie Searle adding the conversion.
At the death, Gav Hart drove over for a simple try as the Staffordshire defence melted away at a lineout drive close to the line.
‘Once we scored our first try in the second half I couldn’t see Staffordshire coming back,’ added Chandler.
‘They had no legs left at that stage.
‘By the end we were well deserved winners.’
– KEVIN RICKETTS