Hampshire’s hopes of reaching Twickenham in the Jason Leonard Under 20 Championship were ended by a clinical second-half performance from back-to-back champions Yorkshire at a packed Hooks Lane on Sunday.
The men in white scored five second half tries, four coming in the final 18 minutes as Hampshire pressed to get back into the game after Ben Holt’s opportunistic score cut the arrears to just two points on the hour mark.
It was one-way traffic in the last quarter and gave the final score line a desperately unfair reflection on the game as a whole as Hampshire gave their much vaunted opponents plenty of problems.
But their experience at this level ultimately told with winger Jonny Keh (Leeds Beckett University) helping himself to a hat-trick with some flair as the holders stamped their authority on the game.
The home side certainly had the visitors rattled in the early part of the game, forcing Yorkshire into indiscipline which saw two players sin-binned within the first 12 minutes.
It was Hampshire who took the early lead when Harry Johnston (Winchester) slotted a penalty following a flurry of penalties with Yorkshire pegged to their line, bringing the first yellow.
Yorkshire hit back five minutes later, moving quickly up the field and then driving over the line – Otley’s Sam Hudson getting the final touch down although some overexuberance in the celebrations sent lock Zak Poole to join his team mate in an early rest.
A second Johnston penalty on 35 minutes gave Hampshire plenty of encouragement and turning around only two points behind was plenty more.
Almost immediately from the restart, Yorkshire pushed Hampshire firmly into their own half and showing their strength up front kept the home side locked on their line, so much so that they forced a penalty try as the ruck collapsed with the line at their mercy.
However, when scrum-half Holt charged down a Yorkshire clearance kick from the 22-metre line and raced onto the loose ball, seeing the ball bounce up nicely to return the deficit to just two points, the game was very much on.
Two tries in the space to two minutes on the hour ensured that hope was quashed as winger Jonny Keh showed a clean pair of heels to race away from the Hampshire defence for his first.
And then, immediately from the restart, he repeated the dose to put the game beyond any doubt and when he added his third – in the try of the game facilitated by Keh’s Leeds Beckett team mate Chester Duff – it gave the scoreline an unfair reflection.
This was only made worse with the final moment of the game when Hull Ionians’ Ben Winterburn on the right wing ensured the final tally closed at 43-13 – the impressive Luke White kicking a penalty and all five conversions with the boot.
Whilst cutting a very disappointed figure, Hampshire skipper Stefan Younghusband was understandably proud of his team. “What an incredible season it has been,” he said.
“Sadly we just couldn’t quite get over the line today as we couldn’t get through them as their defence was solid. We tried to get our boys into it but just couldn’t find a way.
“The scoreline isn’t a fair reflection on the game but once they started to keep scoring, our heads went down and we just couldn’t do anything. But, that said, I am massively proud of the team.”
As he should be as well. This team stepped up after winning the County Shield in 2016 and beat established names in Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Berkshire and Surrey on their way to the semi-final.
“No-one expected us to do this well but we proved them all wrong,” continued the captain. “Yes, it is disappointing to be beaten today but we have dominated every opponent we have played and we can be very pleased with what we have achieved.”
And with 15 of the squad young enough to be able to feature again next season and an impressive set of players pressing from the Under 18 set-up, there is a lot of anticipation for the new campaign, once again in the top tier.
Hampshire Under 20s: Adam Musa (Camberley), James Wise (Leicester University), Matt Evenhand (Trojans), Cameron Smith (London Scottish Academy), Jerome Rudder (Havant), Harry Johnston (Winchester), Ben Holt (Cardiff Met University); Ollie Baker-Clipston (New Milton & District), Stefan Younghusband (Loughborough University – capt), Elliott Bellman (Havant), Will Rayner (Manchester University), Ed Grinsted (Chichester), Rob Cuffe (Havant), Josh Moore (Esher), Jordan Gray (Plymouth University). Replacements: George Cotterell (Trojans), Pita Koroi (Tottonians), James Hargreaves (Guildford), Matt Whitehead (Havant), Joe Holland (Durham University), Danny Heyes (Havant), Charlie Thompson (Worthing).
Yorkshire Under 20s: Sammy Clements (Leeds Beckett University), Ben Winterburn (Hull Ionians), Connor Field (Nottingham University), Tom Allott (Sandal), Jonny Keh (Leeds Beckett University), Luke White (Leeds University), Sam J. Boxhall (Hull Ionians); Dominic Hardman (Hull), William Holling (Doncaster Phoenix), William Dennis (Harrogate), Tom Grahamslaw (Leeds University – capt), Zak Poole (Hull Ionians), Lewis Bradley (Huddersfield), Ben Hyde (Doncaster Phoenix), Sam Hudson (Otley). Replacements: Reece Ward (Old Brodleians), Alex Reid (Leeds University), Dan Robinson (Doncaster Phoenix), Damola Adejuwon (Leeds University), Jonny Teague (Leeds Beckett University), William Lawn (Wharfedale), Chester Duff (Leeds Beckett University).