Devon 20 Kent 28
An exceptional performance from the Kent pack, which included Blackheath’s Tom Stradwick, Tom Baldwin, Harry Fry and Josh Hawkins, saw Kent claim their second victory in the 2017 Bill Beaumont Cup, giving them their most successful campaign since the County Championship was broken into three tiers.
Exemplary throwing from Joe Bonner and Harry Fry provided reliable line-out ball, and with Aaron Cooper, Reece Conlon and Tom Simmons in the front-row, powered by Luke Coughlan, and the seemingly indestructible Royce Cadman, at lock, Kent had the Devon eight marching back metres at the set-scrum. Around such a base the back-row of Tom Baldwin, Alex Everett, Josh Hawkins, Tom Beaumont, and led by skipper and forwards-coach Tom Stradwick, who also collected a hat-trick to take his try tally to five in the three matches, could prosper, making deep incisions into the opposition.
At least they did in the second period.
For the first forty minutes, forward power gave way to slick handling and creativity out wide, abilities in which Devon had far greater proficiency, enabling the host county to build a significant lead which, on another day, might have proved decisive.
It was in the ninth minute that, against the run of play, Devon suddenly opened up the right flank, inside ball sending second-row George Wilson across for the first try. With Kent continually penalised at the breakdown and lacking accuracy out wide, loose ball on half way was hoofed up-field for scrum-half Ben Watts to collect at speed and dive across on the half-hour, and had Reion Raybe not got across to cover another dangerous kick towards the corner, a third try may have put the hosts out of sight.
As it was, fly-half Mitch Pinkus added a penalty to his two conversions, and with Kent ending a frustrating first half fumbling ball close to the Devon goal-line, a delighted crowd at the splendid Pottington Road venue, home of Barnstaple RFC, saw their side with a comfortable 17-0 lead at the break.
However, it was a re-invigorated Kent that at last brought their forward power to bear after the re-start. Exercising better control and ball retention, the visitors bashed away around the fringes for Stradwick to claim his first score in the 49th minute, and with pressure continually on the Devon scrum, forcing the hosts to concede line-out ball close to their own goal-line, a second followed on the hour as the back-row drove across from the set-piece.
Devon gave themselves some breathing space with a second Pinkus penalty, but as Kent stepped up the tempo once more, fine recycling work took them to the opposition goal-line for Cooper to burrow across, Frank Reynolds’ third successful conversion inching the visitors ahead for the first time with only six minutes remaining.
Time enough for the south-westerners to respond, but as they’d done successfully against Surrey at Dorking a week earlier, Kent forced the opposition into their own territory, and as pressure was kept up in the dying moments, further line-out ball saw Stradwick over once more, giving Kent maximum reward and consigning Devon to zero points from their campaign.
Although Kent were unable to threaten Pool winners Cornwall, whose clean sweep of three bonus point victories takes them to the final against Lancashire at Twickenham next weekend, the ten points gained are taken through to next year’s competition, giving them a strong base from which to challenge.
In 2018 Kent will face the same opposition, but with home and away fixtures reversed.
Tries: Wilson 9, Watts 31
Conv: Pinkus 9, 31
Pens: Pinkus 38, 65
Tries: Stradwick 49, 61, 78, Cooper 74
Conv: Reynolds 49, 61, 74, 78