A spirited performance by Hertfordshire Stags against Yorkshire in the semi-final of the RFU National U20 Championships was not enough as they went down by 37 points to 19 at Selby on Sunday.
An 18-point deficit at half-time was too much to overcome, but the Stags competed on equal terms in the second half and were a trifle unfortunate to only share the points 12 each.
The Stags pack was not at full strength, so they were unable to establish their usual dominance and the back row and scrum-half did not have a stable platform from which to work.
In contrast the Yorkshire scrum-half Sam Gaudie was able to have a telling hand in two of his team’s scores. The lines out were fairly even and the Stags held their own in the loose.
When the Stags had the best of the territory in the second half, whether it was because they were trying too hard playing catch up, the backs were not as fluent as usual and the line interventions from full-back not as effective as in the earlier matches.
However, full credit must be given to the Yorkshire defence
Yorkshire took the early initiative and, within five minutes of the start, forced the Stags to concede a penalty in front of their posts, which Chris Bell kicked.
Ten minutes later a good catch and drive from a line out 15m out enabled flanker Guy Coser to touch down. Bell converted to give the home side a 10-point lead.
Within minutes of the restart the Stags cut the deficit. From a scrum just inside their own half skipper Scott Glynn made a fine centre break and sprinted for the line to score. Tim Bitirim converted.
However, that was the only Stags score in the first half. After 30 minutes’ play home scrum half Gaudie made a break and, although his no 8 was stopped short of the line, the Stags conceded a penalty, which Bell kicked.
Just before half-time Yorkshire scored twice more, through another Coser try from a catch and drive and a try by centre Ben Dixon after a break by his co-centre. Bell converted the second of these to give Yorkshire a 25-7 lead at half-time.
Early in the second half a couple of promising Stags moves from lines out came to naught, one because of crossing, and it was Yorkshire who were first to add to their score.
Another telling break from halfway by Gaudie set up wing Ralph Wedlock for an unconverted try.
Five minutes later the Stags were rewarded for some pressure when Glynn scored his second try after his forwards had won ball from a 5m line out.
Unfortunately Yorkshire soon increased their lead again through a major slice of luck. Having kicked for an attacking lineout, Yorks lost their throw in but fly-half Bell charged down the defending kick and touched down. His conversion took the home score to 37 points.
The Stags had the best of the remaining 20 minutes play and were twice held up over the line.
However the solid home defence held until a couple of minutes before the end when lock James Apperley crashed over for a try converted by Bitirim to make the final score 37 points to 19.
Although it was a disappointing finish to the season, overall the Stags have done very well. As more than half the side is eligible for next season they will only benefit from the experience gained.