Lancashire 37 Kent 39: County title eludes the Red Rose

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​​A Lancashire team featuring 10 Fylde players contributed to a superb advertisement for county rugby at Twickenham, where Kent beat them 39-37 in a rollercoaster Bill Beaumont County Championship final.

Both squads were committed to running, attacking rugby as Kent denied the Red Rose a 26th county title.

Back at HQ after five years, Lancashire controlled the first half and led 27-10 only for a fierce Kent comeback to restore parity five minutes into the second half.

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A 76th-minute Kent try looked to have clinched the match before a last-minute response by Lancashire cut the deficit to two points with the conversion to come. The kick drifted just wide and Kent took the title for the first time in almost a century.

Connor Wilkinson scores a try for Lancashire during their defeat against Kent Picture: David Davies/PA WireConnor Wilkinson scores a try for Lancashire during their defeat against Kent Picture: David Davies/PA Wire
Connor Wilkinson scores a try for Lancashire during their defeat against Kent Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

Kent opened the game with a penalty by impressive fly-half Sam Evans after a couple of minutes.

The ensuing play was all in the Kent half but it took Lancashire 17 minutes to get on the scoreboard, when a driving maul ended with prop Danny Rylance touching down.

Yellow cards were to prove pivotal and after Kent’s Jamie Stephen was despatched in the 21st minute, Lancashire capitalised with a glut of tries.

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In the 24th minute, neat running and offloading saw Fylde hooker Ben Gregory race clear to score down the left.

His clubmate Greg Smith’s conversion was the first of three to rebound off a post.

The dynamic running from Lancashire continued with another try manufactured in Fylde. Following yet another break by centre Connor Wilkinson, winger Tom Grimes touched down expertly in the left corner on 27 minutes.

Next Rhys Henderson broke down the right and linked up with Preston Grasshoppers full-back Jacob Browne before Wilkinson was foiled by Kent as the line beckoned.

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But Lancashire were not to be denied as Wilkinson’s delightful delayed inside pass put in Fylde flanker Toby Harrison and Lancashire led 20-3, despite Smith again hitting the woodwork.

Kent's first try in the 34th minute was converted but Lancashire had time to stretch their half-time advantage. A break and offload by outstanding number eight David Fairbrother was collected by fellow Fylde player Wilkinson, who scored under the posts and Smith converted.

Lancashire head coach Alex Loney began to use replacements on this hot day at HQ. So did Kent and they soon changed the course of the final.

Kent upped their running game and were camped on the Lancashire line when Fylde flanker Henry Higginson saw yellow for interference. From the ensuing scrum and maul, Kent were awarded a penalty try to cut their deficit to 10.

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Two minutes later, a fine Kent attack down the right saw winger Toby Wallace break clear to score.

This was converted and a penalty by Sam Evans levelled the scores at 27-27 before the Lancastrians had really got underway in the second half.

They responded strongly and immediately, launching a series of attacks before skipper Dan Birchall drove over from 15 yards. Smith hit a post but Lancashire's noses were back in front at 32-27.

Kent again forced the Red Rose to defend desperately and this time it was an offence by Smith which resulted in a 10-minute rest.

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In contrast to the first half, the Kent pack were on top and and drove over for a try. The conversion was missed and the scores were level again after 56 minutes.

The sides were equally-matched for the next 20 minutes as both searched for a crucial score. And the Hop County finally scored it - a good try by their blindside flanker Rafael Dutta, converted by Evans.

Still Lancashire came back for one last attacking effort. As the game entered its 80th minute, a neat break down the right ended with Sedgley Park winger Henderson diving over for a deserved try.

The conversion would have taken the final into extra-time but the returning Smith saw his effort drift agonisingly wide.

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Kent may have been outscored by seven tries to five in this superb spectacle but they created enough pressure to edge a victory which was celebrated extensively … understandable after a 96-year wait!

Lancashire’s players, coaches and management are to be congratulated on an excellent campaign which fell just inches short.

There was success for Lancashire in the women's final, beating Buckinghamshire 25-15 to lift the Gill Burns Trophy.