Counties one step from national glory

Eastern Counties 26, Hampshire 15Mission impossible continues for Eastern Counties after their victory over Hampshire in Saturday's County Championship Plate semi-final.

Eastern Counties 26, Hampshire 15

Mission impossible continues for Eastern Counties after their victory over Hampshire in Saturday's County Championship Plate semi-final.

The realisation that the final would not be a Twickenham this year was not an ideal preparation.

However, skipper Gideon Rossouw of North Walsham summed things up afterwards when he declared: “When you play, you play to win. Where you play in the final doesn't matter. But yes, the boys are gutted it is not at Twickenham.”

Counties went ahead early on when a breakout from deep inside their own 22 involving IainYoung and Andy Thorpe produced a fabulous try in the corner for colleague Tom Holt.

Four minutes later Holt was over again. This time Aidy Ball of Norwich put the Walsham flyer away and Counties were in dreamland with a 10-0 lead after only 15 minutes. TomHughes then added a penalty to make it 13-0 but Portsmouth's Oge Ofuasia then ghosted in to score under the posts and Chris Ashton added the conversion.

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The hosts seemed to be determined to have the final say of the half and the powerhouse front row of Des Brett, Rossouw and Tim Groom drove over the line, with Groom getting the touchdown and Hughes adding the points to make it 20-7 at the break.

Hampshire began the second half forcefully and for the first time Eastern Counties looked a little fragile but their defence still held firm. Ten minutes into the second half, an off the ball incident, missed by all three officials, left Adam Gowan of North Walsham prostrate on the ground. This incident changed the temperature of the game because within a minute both Rossouw and Hampshire's Tom Drewitt were shown yellow cards following a fracas. The loss of Rossouw was costly for Eastern Counties and Hampshire profited immediately when Havant prop Tom Wells rumbled over to reduce the gap to eight points.

A penalty by Ashton brought Hampshire closer, but Counties hit back and it was left for Hughes to put the final nails in the Hampshire coffin, slotting over two penalties to take Eastern Counties into the final at Durham who beat Sussex 39-13.

Few players relish the thought of a trip to Durham instead of Twickenham. Nevertheless the players from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge will look to create a small piece of history by winning against the odds next weekend.