Hertfordshire’s decisive 54-20 win over North Midlands at Woollams sets up a top of the table clash against unbeaten Cornwall to decide who plays in the Bill Beaumont Cup Final at Twickenham.
Conditions could not have been more different to those at Cinderford the previous week. Hot sunny and only a light breeze and eleven tries resulted to entertain the crowd.
Although Herts won comfortably in the end they did not have quite the same edge as last week and will have to raise their game for the Cornwall clash.
However credit must be given to North Midlands whose forwards in particular gave little away in the loose, being far less generous with turnovers than Gloucestershire.
In the set pieces, Hertfordshire’s line out was very solid and, by the end of the match, they were well on top in the scrums.
The home backs made very good use of their possession running incisively at times to produce some excellent tries.
After a tentative opening few minutes, the Herts backs soon showed their paces, Steve Ellis making a good break from the halfway line to set up a home attacking possession.
North Midlands conceded a couple of penalties which set up lines out 10 metres from their line and from the second, Billy Johnson grasped a long throw to crash over the line. Lawrence Rayner converted to give his side a seven-point lead after 10 minutes.
Following the restart, Herts had a clearance kick charged down. North Mids seized their opportunity, ran right and put in centre Stefan Shillingford for a try, which Alex Warner converted.
The spate of scoring continued as, three minutes later, good Herts running made space for left wing Ben Rawinski to sprint over the line for a try on his county debut. Rayner added the extras.
Then minutes later Herts won a scrum against the head, Ellis made a fine break in the centre and his co-centre Sam Winter finished the move. Rayner’s conversion took the score to 21-7 and all the points had come in a space of 10 minutes.
Herts then took their foot off the pedal for a while and, winning a line out on the Herts 10 metre line, lack of concentration by the defence allowed North Midlands prop Stef Thorpe to cross the line and reduce the deficit to nine points.
The home side reacted and put the visitors under a period of sustained pressure from which space was made to put Rawinski in for his second try.
Just before half-time, Herts conceded and penalty which Warner kicked to make the score 26-15 when the whistle went.
Herts dominated the opening stages of the second half and it was not long before the back row added two more tries.
First, a series of recycles on the visitors’ 22 enabled No 8 Torran Macdougall to cross the line.
Then flanker Ollie Cooper-Millar scored after back row colleagues Macdougall and Johnson had run the ball from the halfway line. Both tries were converted by Rayner and Herts led 40-15.
On the quarter hour Ellis then scored the individual score of the match, making a break from 30 metres out, throwing a lovely dummy and touching down to give Rayner and easy conversion.
Johnson added his second try and, together with Rayner’s conversion, that rounded off the Herts scoring.
In the last 15 minutes North Mids showed some spirit and they were rewarded when Rod Petty intercepted as Herts ran the ball in their 22 and crossed in the corner. The final whistle soon followed with the score 54-20.
On Saturday, Cornwall visit Hertford for the match to decide who goes to Twickenham for the final - kick-off 3pm at Hoe Lane.