Gloucestershire youngsters ease into knockout stages of Under-20s National Championship
Gloucestershire Under-20s 20 North Midlands Under-20s 16
Two first-half tries were enough for Gloucestershire to top their pool in the Under-20 County Championship after securing a scrappy win over North Midlands at Cinderford.
Gloucestershire scored all of their points in the first period to take a 20-5 lead into the interval.
Although the home side failed to trouble the score sheet after the restart, Mike Panoho’s men never looked in serious danger of letting their advantage slip and emerged more comfortable victors than the winning margin suggested.
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Skipper Jack Skelton opened the scoring for the hosts with a finely struck 40-metre penalty in the third minute.
But North Midlands’ response was swift as they turned down three points in front of the uprights in favour of a tapped penalty, with the ball working its way to Chris Fensome to burrow over on the right for a five-pointer.
Gloucestershire were enjoying plenty of possession but unforced errors meant that they seldom offered meaningful threat.
Dean Brooker then saw yellow as referee Greg Gardner lost patience with both sides’ attempts to slow the ball down.
Brooker’s temporary dismissal served only to galvanise the hosts, however, and they scored ten points in his absence.
Skelton firstly kicked a second penalty to edge his team ahead in front by a point, before scrum-half Sam Watkins scampered over under the posts for a converted try as Gloucestershire countered quickly from a dropped ball in the middle of the field.
The home side, unbeaten in this year’s competition so far, continued their momentum with Brooker back on the field and grabbed a second try before half-time through winger Auguy Slowik.
From a lineout on halfway, Gloucestershire switched from left to right patiently to stretch their opponents’ defence.
Eventually, the ball was returned to the left and into the arms of the lively Slowik, who showed great pace to outstrip the defence and touch down. Skelton improved once again.
As handling errors and injuries increased, it took 24 minutes of a second half, at that point notable only for Will Greenwood’s sin-binning for North Midlands ten minutes after the restart, for another score to be registered.
And it went the way of the visitors as the impressive Fensome’s sharp break from a kick return and offload to Gino Belmonte allowed the latter to squeeze over in the corner.
Taki Osaki was off-target with the extras, but the winger slotted two penalties either side of a yellow card for the hosts’ Luke Crunden to haul North Midlands to within a score.
But that was as close as the away side came as Gloucestershire saw out the final five minutes in relative comfort to progress to the knockout stages.
GLOUCESTERSHIRE: T Stevens; T Callow (G Asante 50, J Innes 55), N Blakey, B Large, A Slowik; J Skelton, S Watkins (A Frame 73); K Harris (L Crunden 50), D Brooker (J Payne 59), H Bissett; L Roberts (D Morris 50), H Ivall; C Pursall (L Crunden 22-31, K Harris 73-80) M Woodward, J Holcombe (M Bourne 29)
NORTH MIDLANDS: C Walker (W Goodwin 49); A Rumsey, Charlie Jones, C Fensome, T Osaki; J Landon (S Brown 60), Connah Jones; W Thornhill (W Odam 54), F Sinclair, A Hudson; J Bates, N Parker (W Greenwood 9); G Belmonte, H Nuttall, S Thomson. Not used: A Middleton, H Monkley
Referee: Greg Gardner (Leicestershire)