- Surrey make it three County Championship Shield wins in a row
- Leicestershire have now reached and lost three finals in five years
Surrey wrapped up a hat-trick of victories in the County Championship Shield with an ultimately comfortable 39-16 win over Leicestershire at Twickenham.
Having beaten Leicestershire in 2012 and Cumbria in 2013, the treble was completed in a contest where kickers dominated – and it was not until the last 10 minutes that Surrey were able to run in two decisive tries as their opponents tired.
Coach Richie Andrews now hopes his county, packed with players from a Dorking side who are freshly promoted to National League 2 South, will step up to have a go in Division Two of the Bill Beaumont Cup next season.
“I’d like to see us step up a level now,” he confirmed. “To win here three years in a row is a great achievement and we want to keep progressing.
“Leicestershire play a completely different style to us. They tired towards the end and that allowed us to play a more expansive game.”
Captain Armand Roux added: “It was as hard as we expected. We knew Leicestershire would come for us and would have a strong pack. We knew they’d be well drilled but to be honest they were better drilled than we thought they’ be.
“The scoreline was maybe a bit flattering but we definitely deserved to win.”
Leicestershire could hardly have got off to a worse start as they saw centre Andy Gates sent to the sin bin within 33 seconds of the kick-off for taking out full-back Matt Betty in mid-air.
But Surrey were unable to make their extra man count and, shortly after the numbers were restored to parity, they were penalised for going to ground. Ricky Aley duly produced a well-struck penalty from close to the 10m line to put Leicestershire in front.
A late challenge on Surrey scrum-half Will Crow gave Neil Hallett the opportunity to kick his side level and, from just outside the 22, he made no mistake.
In what was a rather scrappy opening period, it was the two kickers who went on to dominate. Hallett kicked two more for Surrey, either side of one from Aley as the errors mounted.
And, with Leicestershire continuing to commit offences in front of their own posts, Hallett was on the mark again with the last kick of the half to give Surrey a 12-6 advantage.
The contest was crying out for some creativity and it finally came from Surrey after 53 minutes as replacement hooker Sam Johnson produced a neat one-handed lay-off and back rower Harry Watts burst through to score. Hallett duly converted.
That opened the floodgates though, Leicestershire responding almost immediately as Rhoddy McNaughton burst through before slipping a pass to Chris Bale, who dashed in to score. Mark Lord, taking over kicking duties, made no mistake to bring his side within one converted score at 19-13 down.
But the game soon returned to its previous pattern, with Hallett and Lord swapping another penalty apiece as the contest moved into the final 10 minutes.
And, with Leicestershire knocking on straight from the restart, Hallett soon had his sixth penalty of the game to give Surrey a useful looking 25-16 lead.
A super break from Crow then all but sealed it for Surrey as he showed good awareness to burst through a gap in the Leicestershire defence. Hallett duly converted to wrap it up.
They added the icing on their victory cake as winger Fidias Efthymiou went over in the corner and Hallett kicked a tough conversion to take his personal contribution to 24 points.
Leicestershire captain Luke Coltman said: “Up to 75 minutes it was a very close game and there was barely more than six points in it.
“I thought we were dominant at the set-piece but they were more clinical; we didn’t put our chances away.
“But we’ve been to three finals in five years now and we’re all going to get together again next year and give it another go.”
Leicestershire: Try: Bale. Conversion: Lord. Penalties: Aley (2), Lord.
Surrey: Try: Watts, Crow, Efthymiou. Conversions: Hallett (3). Penalties: Hallett (6).
15 Mitch Culpin
14 Lee Robinson
13 David Weston
12 Andy Gates
11 Gareth Kerr
10 Ricky Aley
9 Kris McFedries
1 Rhoddy McNaughton
2 Luke Coltman (captain)
3 Dave Peck
4 Stu Bale
5 Mark Deaville
6 Matt Fearn
7 Josh McLaurin
8 Chris Bale
16 Warren Tebb
17 Ed Hopkins
18 Ewan Bartlett
19 Ben Marshall
20 Chris Gibbs
21 Mark Lord
22 Blane Howe
15 Matt Betty
14 Fidias Efthymiou
13 Matt Noble
12 Will Bennett
11 James Faaatuatu
10 Neil Hallett
9 Will Crow
1 Ben Knight
2 Ross Grimstone
3 Richard Nunn
4 Armand Roux (captain)
5 Matt Higgins
6 Chris Lewis
7 Jon Vermont
8 Ian White
16 Sam Johnson
17 George Evans
18 James Caddy
19 Harry Watts
20 Ryan Jeffery
21 Simon Love
22 Stuart Phillips