Herts Stags reach the play-offs

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An outstanding defensive display was the key to Hertfordshire Stags reaching the London Division U20 play-offs.

They withstood much Hampshire pressure but only conceded one try, while making the most of their opportunities to score four tries and run out 24-7 winners.

The Stags will now play Eastern Counties next on Sunday where a win will take them to the Divisional Final at Staines on March 11.

In the set pieces the forwards were evenly matched, with both sides taking scrums against the head and winning lines out against the throw.

However, in open play the Stags had the edge, both defensively and in ball winning.

Behind the scrum the Hertfordshire backs outshone their opponents. Their passing and support work was excellent and aggressive tackling caused the Hampshire backs to make too many errors.

Herts had the best of the opening exchanges on a sunny afternoon at Basingstoke and soon showed their attacking prowess with a storming run from prop Declan Caulfield.

Although this did not result in a score, before the end of the first quarter the Stags set up a good position on the Hants 22, won quick ball, moved the ball left via the backs and flanker James Sonner was on hand to touch down.

Soon afterwards, the visitors lost Caulfield though injury and as the replacement settled in, Hants took full advantage.

From a scrum near the Stags line, Hants were held up over, before the Stags conceded a penalty that was kicked wide.

But the defence held and the home side also wasted a try opportunity through an unforced error.

Then, on the stroke of half-time, Herts centre Ashley Boyle made a superb break from his 22 and took the ball some 50 metres.

His backs supported well and wing William Hague-Blundy scored in the corner, before Tom Walsh added the two points with an excellent conversion.

Soon after the restart, a rare Herts handling error gave the home side the initiative.

A fine Hants kick set up a lineout near the Herts line, from which a catch and drive put prop Rob Elsmore over the line. Joel Knight added to the points.

Play fluctuated for a while with both sides winning scrum ball against the head, but it was the Stags who scored next.

A good penalty kick set up a lineout in the Hampshire 22, before the ball was won and spun along the line for full-back Nick Foster to score in the corner.

Hampshire responded strongly and, for the next 10 minutes, laid siege to the visitor’s line.

However strong defence thwarted Hampshire and, despite running a couple of kickable penalties, they failed to score.

When Hertfordshire finally broke out of their half, via an interception by Watt, they made the most of it.

From a lineout the backs ran the ball and Watt found a gap to score near the posts. Walsh added the two points to make the final score 24-7.