- Hampshire U20s beat Durham 25-22 to win the National Shield on Sunday, 8 May
- They will now progress into next season’s National U20 Cup
At 19-3 down against Durham at half-time in the National U20 Shield final, Hampshire’s coaches were worried. This wasn’t the plan.
For many of the players, this was their last match for Hampshire at age grade level and their coaches had led them from the age of 14. A win in the national final would be the final success to end an era but Durham had other plans.
On a windy day at Moseley RFC, the side from the North-East stormed into the lead with three tries from Luke Wilson, Elliott Beattie and Jack Hedley and victory looked in sight.
"They forced us to dig deep."
“It wasn’t looking good at 19-3 down,” says Alan Morgan, Hampshire’s team manager who has been involved with the group of players for the last six years.
“We had come through the tournament relatively comfortably up to that point, keeping an unbeaten record. We knew very little about Durham but they tested us, they forced us to dig deep.”
Under pressure in the second-half, Hampshire showed impressive resilience to bring the score back to 22-18 with just three minutes remaining.
With Durham fighting to keep their lead in the last few moments of the match, Hampshire’s scrum half Ben Holt scrambled over the line to give his side a sensational win.
"It was a wonderful way to finish with this amazing set of players," said Morgan. "They did us proud, digging in when it was needed and pulling it back superbly.
"I cannot quite describe how I felt at the final whistle, it’s just brilliant and I am very proud of all of them."
The win means Hampshire will now move up to the National U20 Cup competition next year however many of their players will now move on from the U20 age group.
“It feels like the end of an era,” says Morgan. “We have worked with these players for so long and built brilliant relationships.”
Despite the pressures of the stepping up to the highest tier of the competition, Morgan is confident his side can thrive with half of the team from their Shield victory eligible to play again next year.
“We know it will be tougher,” says Morgan. “Our strength is a consistent team behind the team. Rudi Kochanowski, Jock Inglis, Mike Marchant and Suzi Le Voi have been crucial to our success and we’re confident we can take our form to the next level.”
With three of the current side having been selected for the England Counties U20 training squad and three other previous players now under professional contracts, Hampshire have become a county rugby success story with their Shield victory ending a memorable era.