The Cumbria League Rugby Union Cup Final was played between the League’s 2 top teams, Keswick in first place and second placed Whitehaven, at the neutral venue of Cockermouth on Saturday 15 April. On previous form Keswick were likely favourites, having won both times the teams had met during the league season, though both games had been very close. The conditions were dry and sunny but there was a swirling wind blowing mostly diagonally down the pitch.
Whitehaven played the first half with the wind behind them, supported by a good number of travelling fans. Their heavier pack came under pressure from a well drilled Keswick pack in the first scrum, which ended with a penalty to Keswick. With 3 further penalties against them in the first 5 minutes, all for high tackles, Whitehaven put themselves under unnecessary pressure. However, they made good use of the wind to pin Keswick back in their 22, winning a penalty for not releasing in the tackle, but failing to capitalise on it. Both sides managed to put together good periods of possession and play before Whitehaven were again penalised for their fourth high tackle with only 10 minutes gone.
Whitehaven pushed Keswick back into their own 22 from a penalty, winning a further penalty in front of the posts for a late tackle, converted by Steven McConnell, 0-3. Following this Keswick continued their dominance in the line outs and the scrums, where Whitehaven struggled to win on their own put-in, but were unable to penetrate the defence. Both teams tried to run the ball wide despite the conditions, which led to an entertaining display for the supporters. At the breakdown following a scrum Whitehaven won another penalty in front of the posts, again converted by McConnell to lead 0-6 with 25 minutes gone.
From the restart Keswick pressure turned a fumbled receive into a penalty for offside, duly converted by Andy Muir to reduce the deficit to 3 points. Again Keswick dominated the set piece and despite the wind against them kicked the ball into the Whitehaven 22, where the clearing kick was charged down for George Holme to collect the rebound and head for the try line. Tackled short, the ball was picked up by Olly Macpherson who scored in the corner to the delight of the Keswick supporters. The try went unconverted but Keswick now led for the first time, 8-6, which is where it stayed until half-time despite a lot of pressure by Whitehaven.
The second half started as the first had finished, with both sides driving round the sides of the rucks and mauls before giving the backs a chance to run at the opposition. Shortly after the restart yet another high tackle by Whitehaven resulted in the game’s first yellow card, perhaps a sanction that should have been used earlier as time would show. Muir’s penalty was successful in extending Keswick’s lead to 5 points. Both sides then had periods where they retained possession, but with most of the play in the centre of the pitch, neither try line was threatened before the first high tackle by Keswick was punished the second yellow card of the game.
Sustained pressure by Whitehaven in the Keswick 22, driving round the sides of the rucks ended with a try by Jamie Martin in the right hand corner that was not converted. With the scores now tied at 11 points each, the stage was set for an exciting last 20 minutes. That try seemed to give Whitehaven increased confidence but Keswick’s forward dominance kept them in check until an attack down the right by Keswick allowed Macpherson to make a final pass for Andy Wallace to score an unconverted try in the right hand corner; 16-11.
It was now Keswick that were galvanised and an attack down the left culminated in a try for Jamie McKenzie, converted by Muir to increase Keswick’s lead even further, to 12 points, effectively putting the game beyond Whitehaven’s reach. The referee had an excellent game but his leniency in dealing with the early high tackles was apparent when a high tackle by Whitehaven was followed immediately by a neck choke tackle. Keswick players took exception and the fracas that developed ended with a Keswick player rightly binned for retaliation, but not even a warning for the original offences. The final play of the game followed a turnover by Keswick as a result of a Whitehaven knock-on and yet another unpunished high tackle on a Keswick player, with a kick to touch to end the game. Final score Keswick 23 Whitehaven 11.
On balance Keswick deserved their win, which gave them the League and Cup double before they are promoted to the North Lacs/Cumbria League next season. The winning captain, Aaron Thompson, said: “The win today means everything for the club going forward. We needed a win in the Cup as well as winning the League to make sure we’ve got the confidence to progress into next season. Travelling further away, such as to Manchester, will be a challenge as will maintaining a big enough squad, but we’ve got some players coming back and are confident that we’ll be able to stay up next season.”
Keswick Club Chairman, Trevor Keough was delighted with the win to finish a successful season on a high note: “The lads played brilliantly, the technique of the forwards, particularly in the scrum, was absolutely superb. I think it was our set piece that won it and the whole team rose to the occasion.”