Old Otliensians 32 South Molton 21
By Nigel Walrond at Twickenham
DEVON One champions South Molton were denied a perfect ending to their dream season when they just missed out on Twickenham glory.
They trailed 17-3 and 24-9 to their Otley-based opponents, but fought back to 24-21, only to see hopes of lifting the RFU Junior Vase slip away in the closing stages.
It took the Yorkshiremen less than four minutes to open the scoring. Powerful outside centre Luke Cowdell burst through the middle, and when the ball was recycled, full-back Alex Murphy put right wing Connor Bateman over in the corner.
Fly-half William Cooper’s touchline conversion hit the upright, but straight from the restart, Molton suffered another blow when big lock Jeremy Darley was sin-binned by referee Callum Sharp for taking the catcher out in the air.
The old boys quickly capitalised on their one-man advantage, with a break this time by left wing Alistair Booth putting in centre William Eaves beside the posts.
But Cooper inexplicably missed the simple conversion, leaving Molton 10-0 behind.
It was not proving a good day for goalkickers, with Molton fly-half Callum Stone squandering a penalty chance after 12 minutes.
However, he made amends with his side’s first points of the final at the midway point of the first half with a successful effort.
Molton were indebted to full-back James Tapp for a superb try-saving tackle on Bateman in the corner, after he had broken through two attempts to stop him.
The reprieve was shortlived, though, with a clever grubber kick putting in No.8 and skipper Sam Featherstone for a touchdown, with Cooper squeezing over the extras for a 17-3 advantage.
Molton were coming much more into the game, and a second Stone penalty reduced the deficit further.
Old Otliensians, however, took a firm grip on the match with a fourth try by Murphy following a chip and chase, with Cooper converting, before another Stone penalty left Molton trailing 24-9 at the break.
Molton made an excellent start to the second half, and after winger Harry Kingdon had been bundled into touch in the corner, scrum-half Zak Stoneman sniped off the base of a five-metre scrum to get the Devon side’s first try of the game.
Stone was wide with the difficult conversion, but it was a score that gave Molton hope.
They piled on the pressure, and they should have had a penalty try when they had a scrum heading for the line at a rate of knots halted when Old Otliensians loose-head prop Daniel Stevens caved in.
It was only a penalty, and when he collapsed the next scrum as well, Stevens was finally heading for the sin-bin.
Molton went for a scrum again, and a pushover led to a deserved try by No.8 Daniel Smith, and with Stone converting, the gap was suddenly down to only three points at 24-21, with more than a quarter of the contest still remaining.
It was Molton’s turn to lose a player to a yellow card in the 64th minute following replacement David Kift’s very poor high tackle on Rob Lofthouse, but Molton did superbly well to keep out the catch-and-drive that came from the penalty.
They had a couple of lucky escapes soon after, when Old Otliensians had a try chalked off when the ball went forward in the tackle, and they also butchered a three-on-one overlap by spilling a pass.
They did, however, get their fifth touchdown of the game when another overlap saw Murphy send in Cowdell to put them two scores clear, and a 75th-minute Cooper penalty sealed victory.
Old Otliensians: A Murphy, C Bateman, L Cowdell, W Eaves, A Booth, W Coper, J Wragg, D Stevens, T Howard, J Dyson, A Campbell, J Smith, P Phipps, J Armitage, S Featherstone (capt). Replacements: T Keep, J Offer, R Arbuckle, M Taylor, N Keinhorst, R Lofthouse, N Hesketh.
South Molton: J Tapp, H Kingdon, G Whiting, B Gatehouse (capt), B Bright, C Stone, Z Stone man, R Crang, R Clarke, S Murch, T Clarke, J Darley, R Eury, B Darley, D Smith. Replacements: D Kift, H Cole, G Jones, S Howard, J Campbell, M Butt, D Johnson.
Referee: Callum Sharp (RFU).
Old Otliensians: Try: Bateman, Eaves, Featherstone, Murphy, Cowdell; Cons: Cooper (2); Pen: Cooper.
South Molton: Tries: Stoneman, Smith; Con: Stone; Pens: Stone (3).
Yellow cards – Old Otliensians: Stevens 54; South Molton – J Darley 6.