Lancashire edge Roses battle

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Lancashire 26 Yorkshire 15

THE Red Rose county maintained their 100 per cent record and kept on course for rugby’s County Championship final with victory in a hard-edged encounter at the Woodlands.

Standing in their way are Cheshire, who have also won both matches in the North/Midlands group.

So it’s all or nothing for a place at Twickenham as Lancashire take on Cheshire at Macclesfield on Saturday.

As far as the Roses match was concerned, it was only to be expected that there was no quarter given, though Lancashire deserved their victory, with Fylde players contributing in full measure.

Paul Arnold bolstered the forward effort no end as a replacement among the rolling substitutions.

And little wonder Fylde are thinking of converting Steve Collins to scrum-half next season – he was a livewire until he made way after 46 minutes as coach Mark Nelson changed things around.

Fylde team-mate Oli Brennand saw all his efforts to cross the line frustrated, though not for want of trying, while Preston’s Tom Hughes made some important tackles on the other wing.

The match was something of a culture shock after the expansive rugby Fylde have treated their crowd to over the past few months. The Lancashire approach was more conservative, certainly in the first half.

The kicking game, which has all but disappeared from Fylde’s play, was very much in evidence and didn’t always pay dividends.

The match got under way in teeming rain and a low-tempo start was enlivened only by a couple of darting runs by Brennand.

Lancashire went ahead after 12 minutes, when Yorkshire were penalised for handling on the floor. From the resulting line-out, the home side poured forward with vigour and strength, Louis McGowan claiming the try, goaled by Alex Davies.

Yorkshire threatened immediately with a lively kick and chase by Curtis Wilson, who crashed into the advertising hoardings as the ball bounced dead.

But a few minutes later, Wilson had his reward from a superb movement.

Yorkshire centre Kyle Dench broke with pace from well inside his own half, slipping the ball to Wilson, who made no mistake for a copybook touchdown.

The conversion was missed, so Lancashire still led 7-5 and stretched their lead after stealing Yorkshire’s line-out ball. Collins and Davies were at the heart of an incisive move that ended with prop Dan Birchall plunging over on the right for an unconverted touchdown.

After 31 minutes, Yorkshire retaliated in style, with another outstanding Wilson effort.

Scrum-half Craig Hampson found himself in wide open spaces, linking up neatly with Dench, and play was switched before the final telling pass to Wilson.

The conversion was missed, so Lancashire again led by two.

York-shire could have taken the lead for the first time but fly-half Tom Barrett hoisted a penalty well wide as the White Rose county came more into the contest.

Right on the stroke of half-time, Davies failed with a straightforward penalty and the score remained 12-10, with all to play for in the second half.

Lancashire passed up a chance of an early score when Davies chose to kick, ignoring an overlap on his right. The move broke down with an offside decision against Brennand.

Lock Arnold was having a stormer, and his industry and aggression were rewarded with a try after several concerted drives. Davies added the goal points.

Wilson would probably have scored a third but for a timely tackle by Hughes.

Lancashire retaliated at once, fly-half Davies just beaten in a chase to the line by opposite number Barrett.

Within minutes, Lancashire did get a try, as skipper Alex Loney applied the finishing touch to a pushover movement. Davies’ goal gave his side a healthy 26-10 advantage entering the final quarter.

A crunching challenge by Steve McGinnis on Dench snuffed out the threat of a try for Yorkshire, whose marauding Yorkshire forwards were then held up on the line by some ultra-keen Lancashire covering.

Yorkshire set up a potentially nervous final few minutes with a try in the corner by Rob Baldwin, but the conversion was mis-kicked by Barrett and Lancashire were still two scores ahead with only four minutes remaining.

The contest ended with Lancashire on the attack down the right, Mark Rylance just being bundled into touch before the final whistle sounded.

Yorkshire and Warwickshire are now out of the equation after two defeats, while Lancashire are one win away from a return to Twickenham to defend the Bill Beaumont Cup they have won for the past two years.

Lancashire: Johnson (Preston, Armstrong, Barking, 46) Hughes (Preston Grasshoppers) Briers (Fylde) Riley (Sedgley Park) Brennand (Fylde) Davies (Plymouth Albion) Collins (Fylde, Moore, Vale of Lune,46) Birchall (Sedgley Park) Loney (Rotherham, Rylance, Caldy, 73) Altham (Fylde, Griffiths, Liverpool St Helens, 51) McGowan (Rotherham, Ferguson, Fylde, 58) Rawlings (Longton, Arnold, 36) Crous (Sedgley Park) McGinnis (Fylde) Beaumont (Fylde).