Match report by Richard V Isaacs

Hampshire’s Under 20s are just 80 minutes away from a date at Twickenham and their second consecutive tournament final after an impressive second half showing against a belligerent Surrey side at Havant.

A brace of tries from scrum half Ben Holt and winger Jerome Rudder, including a sensational 60 yard weaving run, set up the victory and a meeting on Easter Sunday against reigning champions Yorkshire in the semi-final.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd at Hooks Lane, Hampshire dominated the first half possession but struggled to pave a path to the line although Eddie Lewis did get the hosts on the board with a penalty after 13 minutes.

Surrey, fielding a much changed side from the one that won 95-3 against Essex a fortnight ago, saw Nathan Thomas (Richmond) slice his way over and Sam Rhodes (Richmond) added the extras for the lead at the midway point.

The fly-halves exchanged penalties but once Havant’s Rob Cuffe split through to score under the posts after a superb run from winger James Wise, Hampshire began to assert their authority.

With the final kick of the half, Lewis slotted a penalty and Hampshire went into the break 16-10 to the good, which was nothing more than they deserved despite kicking a lot of ball away needlessly on occasions.

Seven minutes in the second half came the turning point of the game, thanks to Rudder’s spellbinding run from beyond half way and, roared on by his home crowd, left the Surrey defence clutching at air to score.

Holt found himself in space to run in Hampshire’s third try on 56 minutes and added his second when the ball came out of a Surrey scrum and he was quick to pounce and stroll over which ended all of the visitors’ hope.

However, they continued to fight and Surrey’s powerful flanker Thomas ran through the Hampshire defence to score under the posts to keep them flickering.

But Rudder extinguished that when he was on the end of a good scrum close to the line to score in the corner and to add the cherry on the top, debutant Danny Heyes (Havant) kicked a penalty to clock up 40 points.

Surrey weren’t quite done and in the last knockings of the game, Jonny Burden (Guildford) claimed a charged down kick and won the race to the line which Rhodes converted but it was too little, too late and Hampshire move into the semi-finals.

It has been a sensational first season in the Jason Leonard Under 20 Championship for Alan Morgan’s side, surpassing a lot of expectations and they now face the task of facing the holders Yorkshire on Easter Sunday.

However, as it was pointed out, they lost in the group stages to Durham, who Hampshire beat in the 2016 Shield Final at Moseley and as the manager stated, “it will be 15 v 15 on the day.”

“We have played some fantastic rugby this season and the coaches have some tough decisions to make ahead of the Yorkshire game,” he added.

“For us to reach the National semi-final a year after winning the Shield and being promoted and not really knowing our strongest team in pre-season but the lads have really done us proud.

“Now we face a big step up in playing Yorkshire but we thought that when we were paired against Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Berkshire in the group stages and we are unbeaten so far.”

They certainly are – and are unbeaten in competitive matches since losing to Staffordshire in 2015.  Can the run continue?

Hampshire U20s:

Adam Musa (Camberley), Jerome Rudder (Havant), Matt Evenhand (Trojans), Cameron Smith (London Scottish Academy), James Wise (Leicester University), Eddie Lewis (Havant), Ben Holt (Cardiff Met University); Oliver Baker-Clipston (New Milton & District), Stefan Younghusband (capt – Loughborough University), Elliott Bellman (Havant), Grant Hill (Havant), Ed Grinsted (Chichester), Matt Whitehead (Havant), Josh Moore (Esher), Rob Cuffe (Havant). Replacements: Rhys Driver (Overton), George Cotterell (Trojans), Will Rayner (Liverpool University), Pita Koroi (Tottonians), Joe Holland (Durham University), Danny Heyes (Havant), Charlie Thompson (Worthing).

Surrey U20s:
Terry Gillem (Loughborough University), Reece Stennett (Farnham), Josh Amadi (Richmond), Jonny Burden (Guildford), Konrad Lipinski (Old Guildfordians), Sam Rhodes (Richmond), Toby Dabell (Hartpury); Sam Gratton (Chobham), Nick Pritchard (Exeter University), Ross Crabtree (Guildford), Ben Lado-Byrness (Hartpury), Louis Guillott (Richmond), Nathan Thomas (Richmond), Rhys Courtney (Richmond), Alex Tate (London Irish). Replacements: Josh Brown (Surrey University), Denzel Boatey (Leeds University), Rory Kasspian (Effingham & Leatherhead), Harry Crabtree (Guildford), Leon Bird (Effingham & Leatherhead), Jack Blackmore (Richmond)

Nick Wood (Gloucester & District)

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