Under 20 National County Championship
The semi-final of the Jason Leonard Cup took place on Sunday with the Kent under 20 team entertaining the reigning champions Yorkshire at Charlton Park RFC. The pitch and weather were both excellent and an entertaining game was anticipated by the large crowd.
The game kicked off with Kent playing with the breeze. The early stages of the game saw both sides trying to impose themselves on the other at the breakdown and set piece. It was Yorkshire who were first to score. The boot of Lesczynski accurate following an offside penalty.
Kent replied two minutes later with Ben Fryatt on target as the match officials ensured the offside line was obeyed by both sides. 3-3.
With 23 minutes gone Kent took the lead with another Fryatt penalty for a ruck offence following industrious work from the forwards. 6-3.
Yorkshire had looked to press the Kent line but sterling defence with the back row of Michael Fankah, Harvey Furneaux and Namir Khalil outstanding in dealing with the large forwards of Yorkshire.
Kent’s solid defence was to be a primary factor in securing victory on the day. The Yorkshire attacks were repulsed, and Kent took the game to their illustrious visitors. Good ball carrying from Will McColl, Charlie Galligan and Maik Timmerman got Kent on the front foot. With Finlay O’Sullivan and Ed Marsh adding dynamism to the forward play Kent started to control the ball.
Having taken the lead the Kent forwards carried hard having secured the restart. Good phases from the forwards narrowed the Yorkshire defence. The ever-sharp Pressley Farrance combined with Captain Ben Fryatt to put Jack Cohen away. Cohen broke the first tackle and his speed beat the cover defence emphatically to score the first try of the match. Fryatt converted 13-3.
Yorkshire came back and attacked the Kent line. Maik Timmerman was forced from the field of play to be replaced by Piero Noah. The Yorkshire winger Will Johnson twice went close but good defending from firstly Dema Dawodu then Jack Cohen denied Johnson out wide. The Yorkshire forwards then looked to the pick and go but McColl, O’Sullivan, Fankah, Noah and the other forwards worked hard successfully to prevent the score they sought.
With the last play of the half Kent broke out. Fryatt found space after yet more good carries from the forwards and then excellent distribution from Farrance. Ollie Burkett and Todd Revell showed good footwork and ball retention which saw Yorkshire penalised at the breakdown. Fryatt made no mistake and Kent went in at half time 16-3 up on the back of their excellent defence.
Yorkshire came out for the second half fired up and were immediately pressing the home line. Again the defence had to be up to the task. The physicality of the Yorkshire forwards asked questions of Kent time and again. Their only reward however was a penalty for a scrum infringement to make the score 16-6 from the boot of Lescynski.
The more the game progressed the more assured the Kent play became and a 10-minute period saw them take the game away from the champions Yorkshire with three quick tries.
Captain Ben Fryatt led the way. Great footwork saw him dance over on the back of some excellent work from the forwards. That was backed up by a Piero Noah effort powering over from short range and the final try coming from Dema Dawadu finishing out wide. None of the tries were converted but they had established a commanding lead at 31-6.
Kent were then rocked with the loss of impressive scrum half Pressley Farrance to injury. On top of that Fankah was sent to the sin bin.
Kent down to 14 men freshened the rest of the team up with G McCourt-Welsh replacing Will McColl. Alex Ringshall replaced Ed Marsh. Sam Taylor came on for the cramping Dema Dawadu. Centres Sonny Trew-Nevill and Tom Halliday went in for Ollie Burkett and Todd Revell.
With only 14 men but quality fresh replacements on the field Kent defended Yorkshire’s last throw of the dice. The standard of defence did not drop despite the concerted pressure of a proud Yorkshire team.
Kent made one final replacement with Harry Gibbons replacing the tiring Namir Khalil who had grafted hard all game.
On 70 minutes a proud Yorkshire, who never gave up, scored their first try. Powerful centre Samoni Tobeyaweni going over under the posts. He dropped kicked the conversion successfully as Yorkshire rushed to try and get back at Kent. 31-13.
Despite Yorkshires best efforts it was Kent who had the final say. The last kick of the game saw Ben Fryatt successful with the penalty to close the game out at 34-13.
Kent had defeated the defending Champions and secured themselves a place in the National Final for the first time ever in their history.
Coach Taff Gwilliam said ‘This is a fantastic achievement for these players. Most of them did not know each other when they came together. It is a brilliant advert for community rugby in Kent when players from 14 different clubs at different levels can come together and grow as they have to achieve a bit of history for themselves and Kent Rugby’. He added ‘Their families are proud, we are proud, Kent Rugby is proud. We now look forward to taking on another English County powerhouse, Cornwall, in the final’ on 1st May at Sixways Stadium, Worcester kicking off at 5:15pm