HAMPSHIRE will realise their Twickenham dream after coming from behind three times to beat Warwickshire 23-15 in their RFU Championship Shield semi-final at Webb Ellis Road.
The county side dug deep to earn themselves a first ever appearance on the hallowed turf when they take on Staffordshire in the final next Sunday.
It promises to be a showpiece occasion, kicking off immediately after the England against Wales international game at the same venue.
The win over Warwickshire was the perfect 45th birthday present for team manager Simon Burns.
‘It is a fantastic result after a very competitive semi-final,’ he said.
‘The players showed all their character to win the game after trailing three times.
‘In the last 10 minutes we had to dig very deep because we were defending a two-point lead with 14 men.
‘Pierre-Alex Clark pinned Warwickshire back with some pin-point kicking and we put in a couple of crucial tackles.
‘We looked in control and most importantly refused to panic.’
Hampshire chose to play against the wind in the first half and were trailing inside the first minute.
Warwickshire’s outside-half gave them a dream start with a dropped goal but Hampshire didn’t take long to respond.
On 11 minutes good scrummaging and rucking allowed scrum-half Wes Dugan to burst through a gap for the game’s opening try.
Full back Alex Sutherland added the conversion to put Hampshire 7-3 in front.
With the wind behind them Warwickshire put Hampshire under pressure and regained the lead before half-time with an unconverted try.
Ten minutes into the second half the game swung back Hampshire’s way when Wayne Dugan was on hand to finish off a move on the outside.
Sutherland again added the conversion to make it 14-10 but another try for the opposition saw them regain a one-point advantage.
Hampshire refused to buckle and a 66th-minute Sutherland penalty put them back ahead again.
With 12 minutes remaining Sutherland was sent to the sin-bin leaving Hampshire up against it.
Joe Rees put in a massive tackle to save Hampshire on one occasion causing his opposite number to knock on five metres from the line.
That proved to be a huge turning point.
Pierre-Alex Clark was able to clear his lines and with five minutes left on the clock Joel Knight smashed over a 30-yard drop kick to extend the lead to five points.
Two minutes from time Robbie Searle sealed the win with a penalty.
‘It is a fantastic achievement to get to Twickenham,’ said Burns.
‘We won the competition back in 2008 but the final that year was played at Aldershot.
‘There is no pressure on the players now because they have made the final.
‘They can just go out at Twickenham with the aim of putting in their best ever performance and winning the competition again.’