Despite dominating the scrums and having the best of the lines out, Hertfordshire Stags failed to beat a resilient Kent U20 side at Harpenden on Sunday.
As a result they finished third in their qualifying pool in the RFU National U20 Championship behind Kent and Gloucestershire who will both go forward to the quarter-finals of the competition.
As in the previous two matches, the Stags pack soon gained dominance in the scrums, wining the ball against the head on more than one occasion and causing Kent to concede penalties at the scrum.
The Stags also had the best of the lines out and put in a good performance in the loose. However at times there was a lack of control at the back of the scrum which cost at least one try-scoring opportunity.
Generally the Stags’ ball retention in the tackle and in the loose was not as good as it should have been which meant that a number of promising attacks fizzled out in the face of determined Kent defence.
Having received the kick-off on a warm spring day, Kent had the best of the opening minutes and soon drew first blood.
After five minutes’ play the Stags conceded a penalty 35 metres out which full back Ryan Redman kicked with ease.
It took another five minutes before the Stags made their first serious incursion into Kent territory. However a promising backs move broke down and Kent returned to the Stags half where a drop goal attempt went wide.
The Stags drop out was wayward, Kent ran the ball back and, helped by a missed tackle, wing Max Hobbs scored a try which was converted by Redman.
It was then Kent’s turn to make a mistake at the restart and a solid Herts scrum enabled the home side to move the ball close to the visitors’ line where, after recycling the ball, hooker Jack Elborn drove over to reduce the deficit.
Within minutes the Stags gave away a penalty 40 metres out and Kent were 13-5 up via the Redman penalty.
The Stags followed this set-back with a period of dominant play. Once in the Kent 22 they went through numerous phases retaining the ball until eventually skipper Joe Mackay drove over the line for an unconverted try.
By now the Stags scrum was dominant and they elected to scrummage a number of penalties. However despite a number of promising attacks they failed to score and at half-time it was still 13-10 to the visitors.
The Stags lacked concentration at the start of the second half and a number of errors soon resulted in a penalty for Redman.
The Stags then had the best of the next 20 minutes, but most attacks were thwarted by good Kent defence and poor ball retention.
A dash along the touchline by left wing Zak Michalski ended with him bundled into touch just short of the line.
Then the Stags were poised for a push over try from a 5-metre scrum but somehow they allowed Kent to touch the ball down first.
However, on the half hour Kent broke out of their half, ran through a couple of tackles and Connor Moss scored. Redman’s conversion increased Kent’s lead to 13 points, leaving the Stags with an uphill struggle.
Their response was swift and they were soon camped on the Kent line. From a 5-metre scrum they moved the ball to centre Scott Glynn whose try gave Simon Hrbek an easy conversion.
Another converted try was needed for victory but despite their best efforts including a thwarted forward drive under the posts, the Kent defence held firm.
It was a disappointing end to the campaign which had showed much promise, but most of the Stags side will be available next season when their extra experience should hold them in good stead.