Some of the stars of National League Rugby played their part in an enthralling Bill Beaumont Men’s County Championship final as Kent came from behind to beat Lancashire 39-37 at Twickenham. (Photo Credit: England Rugby)
Scores from Rotherham Titans’ Dan Rylance and Fylde quartet Ben Gregory, Tom Grimes, Toby Harrison and Connor Wilkinson put Lancashire 27-10 in front but Kent fought back.
A penalty try and a score from Westcombe Park’s Toby Wallace brought the game level before Dan Birchall (Sale FC) and Nick Cooke traded scores.
Rafael Dutta (Westcombe Park) went over late on for a converted score to give Kent a 39-32 lead but there was to be one last twist as Sedgley Park flyer Rhys Henderson dotted down but his try wasn’t converted.
After trailing by 17 points heading into half-time, Kent was able to take advantage of a yellow card shown to Fylde’s Henry Higginson. A penalty try and a score from Wallace was added to by Worthing No.10 Sam Evans who made it all square at 27-27 via the tee.
One of the standout performers in National One this term – Sale’s Birchall – got Lancashire’s noses back in front but flanker Dutta dived into the corner to put Kent 39-32 ahead.
And despite the narrow lead, it did prove to be enough for Kent who clinched their first County Championship in 96 years as the extras couldn’t be added to Henderson’s late score.
Kent captain and Canterbury’s Jamie Stephens told England Rugby: “It is huge for the county, to be put on that level with the other massive counties. Kent has always been a huge rugby county, everyone has always known that but to go and get the win is massive.
🏉The referee blows the final whistle and Kent are the Bill Beaumont Men's County Championship Division One Champions after a mammoth second-half comeback!
— Rugby Football Union (@RFU) May 28, 2023
“It was hard watching when I was in the sin bin, but some do say that getting a yellow card at Twickenham is something to tick off the bucket list,” he joked.
“We knew what we had to do at half-time, there was not much I had to say really we knew we had to go out there and throw it around and that is what we did.
“I turned to Danny (Herriott) behind me who was lifting and said ‘well, it’s even now!’
“Once you’re level again it is anyone’s game, momentum always swings.
“I want to stay here for as long as I can now and soak it up and we will have a good night I think, after 96 years of hurt.”
Lancashire head coach and Fylde joint head coach Alex Loney said: “Fair play to Kent, they took chances and put us under pressure, the game broke up a bit and they capitalised, so congratulations to them on the win.
“Obviously it is massively disappointing from our point of view, but we just could not quite do enough to get the win.You just have to credit the opposition.
“We had plenty of chances to score, we kicked the ball away a couple of times in their 22 and we probably should have been the ones in that lead trying to put the opposition under pressure.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Kent though, they came back from a decent deficit and they did enough to get the win, so well done to them.”