Rugby Union: Fleetwood walk the tallest of all

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The Independent Online
Fleetwood. .13

Hitchin. . . 7

NO TWO sides could have been prouder or walked taller on to Twickenham's turf than Fleetwood and Hitchin, the finalists in this year's Provisional Insurance Cup. For players, officials and supporters of both clubs it was, quite simply, the day of their lives. Twickenham was en fete for the occasion. It was a day for the family, sideshows and bouncy castles. It was, in every sense, a castles-in- the-air day when the seemingly unattainable came true for these two junior sides who had started off on the road to Twickenham along with over 500 other clubs last September.

And the rugby provided by both was always entertaining, occasionally skilful and mercifully free of brutishness. Fleetwood, as they have done on several occasions throughout their cup campaign, won a game which for lengthy spells they could easily have lost. But, in Steve Burnage at fly-half and, even more importantly, John Wright, their Lancashire scrum- half, they had a couple of class acts.

Wright, who made Fleetwood's first try, nagged away at Hitchin's back row, probing the blind side and constantly pushing his forwards upfield. The gaps began to open and from one of them he slipped away down the blind side and when he could just as easily have scored himself, he unselfishly sent in his winger, Mark Wilkinson.

It was a score which was slightly against the run of play but the feeling was that Fleetwood always had the game under control. This was despite the early authority of the Hitchin line-out and scrummage and the ability of their wings and full-back to create something out of nothing, but the Fleetwood tackling was sure and accurate.

Moreover, Hitchin's bustling forwards were occasionally hampered by a fly-half who, in tight situations, was worth his very considerable weight in gold, but in the open lacked pace. To paraphrase a memorable comment once made of the great Irish outside- half Barry McGann when he was at his most portly, Fleetwood had the speed to get around Alex Forrest but did they have the stamina? Just about; although both sides were visibly exhausted in the closing stages.

Dave Berry scored Fleetwood's second try direct from a line-out on the Hitchin line and after Burnage's drop-goal Hitchin could easily have given up the ghost. But they responded with a try from a short penalty scored by their admirable captain, Dave Marshall. Fleetwood's control at half-back was, however, the decisive factor. Burnage, although he missed with two penalties, a conversion and four drop-goal attempts out of five, kept the pressure on and in the end Fleetwood, who have in nine rounds and six months played to a consistently high standard, were worthy winners of the trophy which is the last under the present sponsorship.

Fleetwood: M Hill; P Seed, A Crowther, S Fearn, M Wilkinson; S Burnage, J Wright; B Gawne, B Baxter (capt), M Pilkington, A Burman, P Hanley, S Merrick, D Berry, I Cameron.

Hitchin: C Lee; V Donnelly, L Jefferies, A Smith, R Simon; A Forrest, R Owen; P Joyce, I Callicott (A Nicol, 40), P Tasko, D Marshall (capt), R Cobley, P Broadhurst, D Thompson, B James.

Referee: R Quittenton (London Society).

Scores: Wilkinson (try, 19 min, 5-0); Berry (try, 44 min, 10-0); Burnage (drop goal, 47 min, 13-0); Marshall / Jefferies (try / con 54 min, 13-7).

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