- Maama Molitika’s hat-trick inspires East Midlands to first Plate title
- Nine tries scored in thrilling game
Maama Molitika crossed the whitewash three times to help East Midlands claim their first ever County Championship Division 2 Plate title following a 33-27 triumph over Kent.
The opening period proved to be an extremely physical affair, but it was Kent who managed to carve out a narrow 15-13 lead through Harry Sayers and Max Cantwell tries, while James Cameron added five points with the boot.
Molitika touched down twice for East Midlands and Joe Daniel also kicked a penalty as they demonstrated their threat before the interval.
That two-point margin remained early in the second half as a try apiece from Terry Read and Sam Crooks kept the scoreboard tight.
Daniel then took East Midlands in front from the tee before Daniel Hamilton responded for Kent with 15 minutes remaining.
However, the maul was a dominant factor throughout and Molitika completed his hat-trick before Tom Orton went over late on to rubberstamp the victory.
While Kent were featuring in the showpiece event for the third time, this was East Midlands’ debut at the home of English rugby.
Unperturbed by the size of the occasion and with the experienced Aleki Lutui and Molitika in their ranks, they set out with intent.
An illegal tackle in midfield allowed Turner’s side to open the scoring before the Midlanders good early work was undone when John Gallagher’s team got themselves on the scoreboard through a superbly constructed try.
Kent found space out wide and that enabled Aiden Moss to display his pace in open field. With cover coming across the full-back did exceptionally well to draw the final defender and send Sayers over the line.
Cameron converted for a 7-3 advantage but, in a score typical of the opening half, East Midlands regained the lead when Lutui’s accurate lineout throw was collected at the back and Molitika was driven over.
It was proving to be a topsy-turvy encounter and that was demonstrated in the final 15 minutes of the first period.
Kent initially managed to put the opposition rearguard under significant duress and that yielded a penalty which their stand-off converted.
Cantwell then scored from close range and, at that point, it appeared as though they were beginning to pull away, but East Midlands repeated the trick from earlier to reduce the arrears at the break.
Once again, Molitika was the beneficiary of his pack’s efforts as they remained in contention at half-time.
The see-saw nature of the match continued after the interval with Read and Crooks trading touchdowns to keep the game tight at 22-20 in Kent’s favour.
However, Daniel landed a three-pointer for the Midlanders as they gained the lead for the first time since the 23rd minute.
Although Hamilton crossed the whitewash soon after, Molitika’s third try and a late Orton effort proved decisive as East Midlands took away the trophy.
KENT’S SET-PIECE SUPERIORITY
With Lutui up front, a man who has been capped 38 times by Tonga, it was unsurprising that East Midlands controlled the set-piece battle.
It was their main source of points as his accuracy in the lineout allowed Molitika, his fellow countryman, to score a hat-trick, all from driving mauls.
The match was hotly contested in most facets but the battle at the contact area meant that neither outfit could gain a stranglehold on proceedings.
Both back-rows were strong over the ball, while the support for the clearout was not always there, which meant possession was traded with regularity.
Another reason for the score changing hands so often was the restart. Having either landed a penalty or gone over the line for a try, the subsequent kick-off generally saw the receiving team fail to hold onto possession.
That enabled the teams to get back on the front foot immediately after conceding points.
"It was an incredibly even contest and fair play to Kent for such a tough game," Mark Lavrey, chief director of East Midlands. "The coaches and players are absolutely over the moon. We've never been here before so to win today is absolutely fantastic."
|Jack Culverhouse - Ampthill||1||James Green - Canterbury|
|Aleki Lutui - Ampthill||2||Joseph Bonner - Westcombe Park|
|Matt Collins - Ampthill||3||Terry Read - Blackheath|
|Ben Gulliver - Ampthill||4||Luke Bellinger - Westcombe Park|
|Josh Tyler - Ampthill||5||Royce Cadman - Canterbury|
|Sam Crooks - Peterborough Lions||6||Max Cantwell - Canterbury|
|Brett Daynes - Cambridge||7||Hugh McCormick-Houston - Old Colfeians|
|Ma'ama Molitika © - Ampthill||8||Thomas Stradwick © - Blackheath|
|Gavin Williams - Ampthill||9||Charles Edwards - Old Elthamians|
|Jack Green - Cambridge||10||James Cameron - Westcombe Park|
|De La Rey Veenendaal - Peterborough Lions||11||Daniel Hamilton - Blackheath|
|Jonathan Raven - Peterborough Lions||12||John McMahon - Tonbridge Juddians|
|Adam Barnard - Tonbridge Juddians||13||JJ Murray - Tonbridge Juddians|
|Joe Daniel - Canterbury||14||Harry Sayers - Canterbury|
|Karim Lynch - Canterbury||15||Aiden Moss - Canterbury|
|Vili Ma'asi - Ampthill||16||Neil Wakefield - Canterbury|
|Dan Seal - Cambridge||17||Nick Porter - Westcombe Park|
|Andy Ince - Bedford Athletic||18||Thomas Scorgie - Old Elthamians|
|Tom Lewis - Peterborough Lions||19||Lee Covington - Westcombe Park|
|Tom Orton - Bedford Athletic||20||Sam Eydmann - Blackheath|
|JJ Raven - Norwich||21||Rob White - Old Elthamians|
|Jonny Morgan - Ampthill||22||Ben Hough - Old Elthamians|