Lancashire 54, ​Somerset 33: Lancashire sweep aside Somerset in county contest

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​A curious circumstance in the set-up of the Sir Bill Beaumont County Championship this season saw Somerset allocated to the Northern group alongside Lancashire and Yorkshire.

It was 87 years ago when the West Countrymen last visited Fylde’s Woodlands Memorial Ground to take on the Red Rose county. Lancashire won on that long distant day in 1937 by 13-3 although this time it was a somewhat higher scoring affair.

It fact, the two evenly matched teams shared 87 points, 11 tries and five yellow cards.

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Given that the great majority of the 44 players in both squads play at National League Two – in the North and West divisions respectively – it was hardly surprising that it was a competitive and close game which kept a decently sized crowd fully engaged throughout.

Match action from Lancaster's win over Somerset (photo: Chris Farrow)Match action from Lancaster's win over Somerset (photo: Chris Farrow)
Match action from Lancaster's win over Somerset (photo: Chris Farrow)

It was a peerless spring day on the Fylde Coast, with unbroken sun yet not too hot for the hard working participants. The Woodlands Memorial Ground looked in splendid condition and was a perfect surface for two teams who endorsed the credo of attacking and running rugby.

The contest began in a dramatic fashion when in the second minute the visitors took the lead when a sweeping attack saw centre John Cook finish off a move set up by the very rapid fullback Tom Bryan who had carved up a rather flat footed Lancashire defence. Fly-half Ashley Groves added the extras for a 0-7 lead.

A couple of minutes later Lancashire hit back with a try of their own. Winger Jordan Dorrington received the ball near the left hand touchline on halfway, and sidestepped and barged his way past defenders to break clear and score a lovely solo try in the corner.

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Dorrington seemed to be everywhere in the 1st half and was constantly dangerous. Fly-half Greg Smith, who was to have a perfect, exemplary goal kicking day, converted from the touchline to even up the scores.

Smith’s contribution to the fun wasn’t limited to goal kicking as in the 9th minute with Lancashire pressing inside the Somerset half he chipped over the line of defenders to waiting no 8 Toby Harrison in the left corner who grounded the ball with a neat finish. Smith converted once again for a 14-7 advantage.

If home supporters were in danger of over confidence at this rapid start, they were disabused in the 19th minute.

The powerful visiting pack encamped near the Lancashire try line and set up a series of drives for the whitewash. Referee James O’Brien awarded penalties against the fierce Lancashire defence until his patience ran out and a penalty try was the result. Lock Matt Garrod was sinbinned adding insult to injury and the scores were level at 14-all.

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In the 28th minute, Somerset lock Andy England was forced off with injury and was replaced by Peter Paramore, the son of well known former Samoan international and cross code giant Junior Paramore.

Greg Smith was enjoying his last match on his home Woodlands acres after an outstanding seven year spell as a Fylde player – 187 appearances and 1480 points – before he moves ‘down the road’ to become Preston Grasshoppers’ player/coach.

His numerous appearances for the Red Rose county are additional to these and he showed what a fine player he is once more. During his Fylde career he often eschewed penalty kicks at goal if it meant giving up an opportunity to seek territory and tries.

But in this match he adopted a pragmatic approach and nudged his side ahead in the 31st minute with a straightforward penalty – 17-14.

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As an ‘infield’ touch kicker Smith met his match in Somerset’s fly-half Groves. From a penalty well inside his own half in the 35th minute the Old Radcliffian playmaker put in a huge touch kick to the right corner.

From the consequential line out drive, the Somerset pack showed their powerful mauling advantage and hooker Kacey Pike was the beneficiary and claimed the touchdown. Groves added the extra points for a 17-21 lead.

However, with just minutes left before the interval, Lancashire exercised a crucial spell of control. Firstly, Smith reduced the deficit with a penalty kick in the 38th minute.

Somerset centre Elswood turned from hero to villain when he was shown a yellow card. Lancashire fullback, the impressive Zac Stephens, was forced off with a leg injury and replaced by Will Hunt.

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In overtime, Lancashire attacked down their right and Hunt forced his way over for the try. Smith converted and the players departed for their oranges with the home side ahead 27-21.

The two packs had fought out a fairly equal battle in the first 40 minutes, in the tight and loose exchanges.

The Lancashire backrow of Connor James, Toby Harrison and Lewis Bradley were proving very effective, with Bradley showing up all over the pitch as ball carrier and ‘jackal’ at the breakdown.

The second half continued much as the first forty minutes had ended. In the 46th minute Smith kicked his third penalty and six minutes later Lancashire extended their lead playing towards the crowded Woodlands Clubhouse.

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Sam Russell had replaced Scott Rawlings in the 1st half and in the 52nd minute he put in a typically rumbustious run to score Lancashire’s 4th try. Smith’s conversion put some clear blue water between the teams at 37-21.

Somerset heads didn’t drop, however, and they picked up the pace of the game as they pressed into the Lancashire half. Replacement Ryan Karlson was sinbinned and from the penalty to the corner and the ensuing lineout drive, Somerset hooker Pike was last man up for his 2nd try of the day.

Groves converted and was once again the West Countrymen were in range at 37-28.

In the 66th minute the Lancashire backs attacked down their right and a penetrative break by winger Jacob Browne set up Will Hunt for his 2nd try of the afternoon.

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Needless to say, Smith converted successfully. Six minutes later Lancashire flooded towards the Somerset try line and replacement prop Peter Altham scored his first try of the 2023-24 season when he drove over from close range for his side’s 6th and final try and a 51-28 lead.

Still the Somerset squad would not throw in the towel. The sinbinning of Lancs replacement Oli Trippier in the 76th minute gave the visitors an advantage and replacement back Jack Gapper scored wide out.

There was still time in this frantic score fest for Somerset skipper and flanker Sam Taylor to also ‘see yellow’ and Greg Smith finished off proceedings with a final penalty and a score of 54-33.

Smith’s goal kicking afternoon was complete - and faultless – all six Lancashire tries converted and four penalties to give him a personal haul of 24 points. He shared this reporter’s ‘Men of the Match’ award with team mate Lewis Bradley

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Lancashire travel to face the old enemy Yorkshire at Hull Ionians looking for a place in the Twickenham County Championship Final.

LANCASHIRE: Stephens (Hunt 38); Browne, Glasse, Rawlings (c) (Russell 24, Rawlings 66), Dorringon (Lanigan 70); Smith, Sturgess; Bowker (Burtonwood 74), Burtonwood (Trippier 56), Rylance (Altham 46), Barron (Longson 46), Garrod (Karlson 31), James, Bradley, Harrison (Barron 72).SOMERSET: Bryan; Kilbane, Cook, Elswood (Love 64), Murphy; Groves, Tuttiett; Cano, Pike, Neube (O’Donnell 40), Fear (Lee 55), England (Paramore 28), Stratton, Taylor (c), Mills. Reps included Appleton, Butler & Gapper.