Hertfordshire Stags put in a very disappointing performance against Kent U20 at Cranbrook on Sunday, losing by 43 points to 26.
However, by winning their first two matches and gaining a four-try bonus point in each game, they top the pool by two points and so play Berkshire at Bishop’s Stortford in the quarter-finals.
However the Stags will have to put in a much better performance than they did against Kent if they wish to progress further.
The Stags started well enough and soon had Kent under pressure, setting up two successive 5 metre lines out. The catch and drive caused the defence problems and then the Stags moved the ball out for centre Brandon Bowden to cross the line for the opening try, which was converted by Tim Bitirim.
From then on it was a different matter.
Kent decided to play a wide open game and take play away from the stronger Stags forwards.
Their backs put in an excellent display of running and passing which found the Stags’ defensive lines wanting.
Four tries came in the first half, all converted by the immaculate kicking of fly-half Reynolds.
The first try, only five minutes after the Stags’ opening score, was created by a good run by wing Eastwood and was finished off by Reynolds. Minutes later, lock forward Stubbington touched down after Kent had run a free-kick.
Midway through the half, the Stags lost wing Luc Lee with a hamstring injury and the only back replacement was the reserve scrum-half, which did not help their cause.
As Kent continued to dominate, the Stags made more mistakes and lost the ball in the loose on a number of occasions.
From one such turnover Reynolds make a break on the Stags 22 and put scrum half Spence over the line. Then on the stroke of half-time, prop Kenny was driven over the line from a 5 metre lineout to give Kent a 28-7 lead.
The Stags drew first blood in the second half, when full-back Bitirim ran a poor Kent clearance kick and made space for centre Scott Glynn to score a try, converted by Bitirim.
However from the restart Kent won a turn over and Spence crossed the line for his second try to dim the Stags’ hopes of a recovery.
On the half hour, following a period of Kent pressure, Stags wing Chris Cullen made a break to set up a good position from which No 8 James Thacker scored, Bitirim again converting.
Clawing back to 11 points down gave the Stags a glimmer of hope, but at the restart they received another blow when a collision between two Stags players resulted in Thacker leaving the field with suspected concussion.
Kent quickly scored two more tries via wing Eastwood and replacement prop Baker. The Stags did have the last word though, with prop Hayden King touching down following a 5 metre scrum on the stroke of full-time.
Kent deservedly reached the quarter final with this performance and will play Gloucestershire.
In their quarter-final, Hertfordshire will host Berkshire at Bishop’s Stortford, both matches being played on Easter Sunday, March 27.