North Midlands fell at the quarter-final stage of the Jason Leonard National Under-20 Championship with a 17-12 defeat by a well-drilled Cheshire side at Dudley Kingswinford today.
Last season North Midlands crashed out against Durham and they were again unable to make the most of home advantage, having won their group, against the runners-up from the North. Cheshire, who also beat North Midlands in a warm-up match in December, will now travel to play either Kent or Cornwall in the semi-finals on April 15.
There was little between the sides throughout but North Midlands needed to be organised in defence to frustrate Cheshire who were dangerous in attack in the first quarter.
Cheshire’s defence proved equally resolute when North Midlands probed but when Cheshire turned over possession on their own 22, North Midlands were quick to counter and excellent support play saw Birmingham Moseley fly-half Sam Hollingsworth cross for a try which Rhys Harrhy of Newport improved.
But Cheshire were level again at half-time as they crossed for a try from a line-out drive and their fly-half, Josh Morris, landed an important conversion from the touchline.
North Midlands were unable to turn early second half pressure into points against some aggressive Cheshire defence and the visitors grew in confidence as the half progressed.
The turning point came midway through the second half when Hollingsworth was yellow-carded after an accumulation of team penalties which allowed Morris to land a straightforward penalty which gave Cheshire the lead.
Cheshire than unpicked the defence to score a try which Morris improved to open up a ten points lead which proved a sufficient insurance against defeat.
Although North Midlands dominated the final five minutes and produced a superbly-crafted try for Whitchurch full-back Dan Pemberton it proved to be too little too late.