RUGBY UNION: Twickenham is beckoning for West Norfolk after a stunning RFU Senior Vase victory over Hitchin.
The hosts romped to a 57-17 victory at Gatehouse Lane in the London & South East semi-final to set up a regional final against Reeds Weybridge on March 14.
A win then will see West take on the winners of the South West Senior Vase in the national semi-final, with a place at Twickenham, the home of English Rugby, the reward for the winners, against the Northern/Midlands champions.
Saturday’s physical game looked to be in the balance in the early stages but a large and loud home crowd spurred their heroes on to a convincing win.
Hitchin took a first-minute lead with a swift try and threatened to run away with things as they tested West’s defence. Courageous tackling from fly half Sam Moses and flanker James Dobbler kept the visitors out, with a missed penalty and a couple of clearance kicks needed before the home team started to pull themselves out of danger.
In the 18th minute Edney Costa found a hole in the Hitchin defence to get within 10 metres of the tryline.
A neat offload to Dobbler was recycled and captain Henry Rust crashed over to score, converted by Moses.
A few minutes later, Moses sliced through a gap and threw a backhanded offload for centre Max Rust to claim West’s second converted try.
Hitchin brought the score back to within two points with an unconverted try but in the 33rd minute, Jamie Williamson picked up from a scrum and offloaded to Hayden Revell, who passed to full back Mark Tilbrook and he dived over the line to put West 19-12 ahead at the interval.
A huge tackle from Sam Mount prevented Hitchin scoring in the opening few minutes of the second half as West had to defend their line valiantly.
Dobbler stole a number of Hitchin lineouts in his man of the match performance before, in the 52nd minute, Moses opted to go blind 15 metres out from the Hitchin try line.
Tilbrook was stopped short but captain Rust was on hand to crash over, with Moses adding the conversion.
A nasty tackle on Dobbler in the air saw a Hitchin player put in the sin bin, with Costa following for dissent, leaving both teams with 14 men for 10 minutes.
Moses’ penalty kick took the score beyond two converted tries as West started to pull clear. Lock Mount sprinted through to add another try, Moses converting, and, with the visitors tiring, West asserted their dominance.
Winger Stephen Aspery scored in the corner, soon added to when Rust weaved and stepped his way through the Hitchin defence, this time Revell converting.
Minutes later, Dan Nunn, Max Rust and Dobbler set up Charlie Moore for West’s final try of the game, Revell converting.
Hitchin added a late consolation try but it could not take the glory from the hosts.
Head coach Darren Clarke was pleased to see his team dig deep to withstand the early pressure and said: “Hitchin put us under a lot of pressure in the early stages but we kept to our game plan and were worthy winners.
“The whole squad gave 100 per cent and the players that came off the bench made contributions in the second half.
“To reach the London divisional final is a fantastic achievement and just reward for the efforts of the club throughout the year.
“We now switch our thoughts back to league action and look forward to a great final in March.”
Captain Henry Rust praised his team’s discipline: “It was a well contested game of rugby in the first half and we did well not to lose our heads after Hitchin scored very early on.
“The second half showcased some of the best rugby we have played all season and it was an enjoyable performance to be a part of.”
West Norfolk thanked RC Finishing, DR Jordan, Ben Trundley and the Trundley Group for smart home and away dug-outs that were built in the days leading up to the game.
League action returns to Gatehouse Lane tomorrow as West Norfolk take on Fakenham in London Three Eastern Counties, 3pm.