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by Richard V Isaacs

Hampshire Under 20’s have booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Under 20 County Championship after maintaining their 100% Pool 4 record with a 25-19 success over Cornwall at Overton on Sunday.

But they had to withstand a stern test from the Black and Golds late on as they came perilously close to snatching the win at the death that could have knocked Hampshire out of the competition.

Hampshire survived and they will tackle Pool 3 runners-up Surrey in the quarter-finals on April 2 as the undefeated Pool 4 winners.

It was little more than they deserved though as they stormed into a 20-0 lead just after half-time with a mix of speed and considerable skill which left the Cornish clutching at air.

The hosts took the lead on six minutes when Trojans’ Matt Evenhand cracked a 50 yard penalty, with the assistance of the stiff wind.

That advantage was extended just before the midway point of the half when winger James Wise sprinted and weaved his way to the line following excellent play through the backs to cross for the opening try.

And, playing with the elements at their backs, a second try was almost crucial and so it proved when the forwards stole the ball from the ruck and quickly fed full-back Adam Musa (Camberley) to score under the posts which Evenhand improved to give the hosts a 15-0 interval lead.

The momentum of the game remained with the home side and when Eddie Lewis’ delicate chip through found Cameron Smith getting the last touch on the ball for Hampshire’s third try.

At 20-0 up, the West Countrymen were staring the competition exit but they hit back strongly when replacement prop Jack Osborne (Launceston) grabbed the ball as Hampshire tried to clear their lines to get them on the board.

Just eight minutes later and Hampshire grabbed a fourth try, clinching what could have been a crucial bonus point, when Wise once again showed his speed to beat the chasing defence to score in the corner.

With just ten minutes left, Hampshire led 25-7 and could have sat back, safe in the knowledge they were heading into the quarter-finals.

But the Cornish were having none of it and when Camborne’s Cameron Sayer scored and then, five minutes later, full-back Toby Robinson was on the end of a break out of defence passing move to cut the arrears to just six points, Hampshire were in danger.

However, despite Cornwall finishing the game on the attack and forcing Hampshire cut down to 14 men with a sin-binning, Stefan Younghusband’s side held on for a famous victory.

The achievement to top the group with three wins from three, in a group that contained last season’s semi-finalists Gloucestershire and the much vaunted Cornwall is a fine effort.

They now stand just two matches away from being the third Hampshire XV to play in a Championship final in succession and given the way they are playing, you may not wish to bet against it.

Hampshire U20 team:
 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), Rob Cuffe (Havant), Ed Grinsted (Chichester), Seb Herold (Cardiff University), Josh Moore (Esher), Jordan Gray (Plymouth University).  Replacements: Rhys Driver (Overton), George Cotterell (Trojans), Kevin Raqio (Tottonians), Matt Whitehead (Havant), Joe Holland (Durham University), Jonny Glendening (Cardiff Met University), Sam Bloomer (Winchester).

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