Hertfordshire Stags reached the semi-finals of the RFU National U20 Championship by beating Berkshire U20 by 13 points to 5 at Bishop’s Stortford on Sunday.
The Stags win was based on an excellent scrummaging performance by the pack, backed up by solid defence.
The strong wind and frequent squally showers made handling difficult and, although both sides tried to run the ball, the moves frequently broke down in the conditions.
The Berkshire pack edged the lines out and often threatened with catch and drives, but only once managed to get points on the board.
The strong wind was in the Stags’ favour in the first half and they soon showed their scrummaging superiority, pushing their opponents back at a couple of scrums.
After 10 minutes, Berkshire conceded a penalty at a scrum some 45 metres out, and Stags full-back Tim Bitirim split the posts with an excellent kick.
In the next five minutes the Stags won two more scrum penalties to take play to a lineout 10 metres from their opponents’ line.
A good catch and drive saw 17-year-old debutant lock Seb Brownhill touch down, and Bitirim delivered another excellent kick to add the two points and give the Stags a 10-point lead.
Minutes later the Stags could have extended their lead, but this time Bitirim’s penalty attempt sailed wide in the wind.
Berkshire lifted the pressure by driving well from lines out and got within 5m of the Stags line, but the home defence held.
Play then returned to the Berks half for a period, but the Stags could not convert the pressure into more points.
Then as half-time approached, Berks won a couple of penalties at the breakdown. One catch and drive was foiled but with three minutes left, another catch and drive from 5m out was rewarded with a try by skipper Will Morrison.
A five-point lead with the wind advantage to their opponents in the second half did not look like enough of a cushion for the Stags.
However, the Hertfordshire side withstood the early pressure and, after 10 minutes, a rare good run by full-back Bitirim took play into the Berkshire half.
From there the Stags kept up pressure and, midway through the half, won another scrum penalty on the Berks 22 and Bitirim made no mistake to extend the home lead to eight points.
Although by now the rain had stopped, the wind was just as bad and conditions for running and handling were very difficult.
Both sides made great efforts to score but the nearest Berkshire came to closing the gap was a good break by skipper Morrison. That move ended with a turn over and it was not long before the final whistle came. The semi-final will be played on Sunday, April 10, at a neutral venue.