Lancashire clinch Twickenham final place
Lancashire are back at Twickenham on Sunday, May 28 to face old adversaries Cornwall in the final of rugby union's county championship - but it was a mighty close call.
They needed a four-try bonus point victory over Cheshire at Heywood Road to ensure that they made it to HQ, and they only scored that fourth touchdown with five minutes remaining thanks to Sale FC and former Fylde centre Scott Rawlings.It was vital they got that try otherwise they would have been pipped in the group standings by Roses rivals Yorkshire, who overwhelmed Eastern Counties 61-15 at Hull Ionians' ground.Cheshire pushed Lancashire all the way despite being out-scored by Lancashire to the tune of four tries to one.Red Rose coach Mark Nelson hailed his players' performance, but the occasion was marred by an injury to Fylde hooker and forwards coach Alex Loney.He has suffered a suspected torn Achilles, which is liable to lead to a lengthy lay-off.The injury could not come at a worse time because not only does Loney, a master at Stonyhurst School, miss a date at Twickenham, but he has been ruled out of the England Counties' summer touring party for which he had only just been selected.Nelson said of Lancashire;s achievement in getting to the final after three successive bonus point wins: "You never tire of getting to Twickenham."It is a fantastic experience for all concerned and some of the lads have never played there before and maybe never will again."Cornwall, who have won the title for the past two seasons, beat Hertfordshire 45-21 at Camborne, which means Trelawny's Army will arrive en masse at Twickenham.Nelson said: "This will be Cornwall's fifth final in five years and they will regard themselves as favourites as everyone else will."They will rely on a number of Plymouth and Redruth players and bring a lot of supporters to descend on Twickenham from Cornwall, but we will be prepared for them."The rivalry between the two counties goes back a fair way.The Red Rose beat Cornwall in the decider in 2013 and 2014, but Cornwall defeated the Red Rose in 2015 and beat Cheshire in the final last season.Nelson, in his 15th season in charge of Lancashire, said his team would demonstrate the sort of spirit that has got them this far and that Cheshire had been a tough nut to crack in the deciding match."Cheshire were hammering at us hard in the first half, but we defended really well at that point, which was very important."Lancashire led 17-0 at half-time against Cheshire - after withstanding the early pressure of their rivals, they gradually took control.Bob Birtwell (Sedgley Park) gave them the lead with a try converted by Sale FC's forner Fylde fly-half Chris Johnson.Cheshire were hamstrung by a couple of players being sin-binned in rapid succession.Lancashire did not find it easy to make a further breakthrough for a significant spell, but eventually did so when Fylde winger Anthony Bingham claimed a try after a copybook move.Johnson added the conversion and then slotted over a penalty in front of the Cheshire posts following a high tackle.Fylde skipper Chris Briers very much caught the eye in that first half with some probing runs.In the second half Bingham claimed his second and Lancashire's third try after a neat pass by Armstrong.Cheshire pulled a try back through Lewis Baker to reduce Lancashire's lead to 22-5.Cheshire suffered yet another sin-binning to reduce them to 14 men once more and it was in the closing stages that Armstrong sealed the deal with a converted try to spark joyous scenes as Lancashire had made it.