Eccleshall RUFC made club history last Sunday winning the Staffordshire Intermediate Cup for the first time ever. Having had a poor season in Midland 3 NW, the Baden Hall based side upset odds-on favourites and recently promoted Newcastle (Staffs) RUFC 31-26 with a seasons best display.
Only 3 months ago Eccleshall made the short trip to Lilleshall Road, Newcastle and had been hammered 63-0, so the odds were stacked against them. However, they arrived on Sunday full of confidence following a number of extra training sessions, and a game plan drawn up by new coach Max Outram, who was only 20 when he was recruited by Eccleshall earlier this season.
Fearing a strong partisan crowd, Eccleshall provided transport for its club members and supporters in an attempt to reduce Newcastle’s home advantage. Eccleshall support in the 100s was vocal from the outset and were buoyed by two early Eccleshall tries: first from Eccleshall born winger Andy Whieldon who showed an unusual turn of pace and great strength to beat two Newcastle defenders and carry another over the line to score, the try went unconverted but was soon followed by Eccleshall scrum half Bryn Judge, who used his not inconsiderable stature to bulldoze through the Newcastle defence from 10 yards to score Eccleshall’s second try, which again went unconverted.
Eccleshall’s 10-0 lead only served to stir a frustrated Newcastle, who unfortunately lost their starting fly half following a collision with Eccleshall inside centre Chris Whalley, and two well worked tries followed: the first saw winger Sam Evans carve through the Eccleshall defence to score under the posts. The second saw him dive on a loose ball in the Eccleshall in goal area that had carefully dissected Eccleshall’s back 3.
With Eccleshall now on the back foot a moment of brilliance from fly half Joe Furlong unlocked a seemingly impenetrable Newcastle defence. Seeing winger John Carr in space on the left wing, Joe kicked an inch perfect cross field kick caught by Carr who dove over the line to score Eccleshall’s third try of the half, which again went unconverted, leaving the scores a nail biting 14-15 as half time approached.
Eccleshall continued to use their forwards to make strong runs deep in to Newcastle territory with former captain Nick Hulse and Eccleshall veteran Alain Bishton leading the charge. Their hard work paid off when Newcastle infringed at the break down and Eccleshall were awarded a penalty which was converted much to the appreciation of the travelling spectators. The scores were 14-18 at the half time break.
Newcastle started the second half strongly and were soon back in front after a well worked passage of play resulted in a try putting the home side back in the lead 19-18. From the resulting restart Eccleshall were soon back deep in Newcastle territory when fly half Furlong retreated in to the pocket and slotted a drop goal from 30 yards, putting Eccleshall back in to the lead 19-21.
Fly half Furlong’s trusty right boot further extended Eccleshall’s lead when, following an offside in the Newcastle centres, he stepped up to convert a penalty to give the visitors a 5-point advantage (19-24) as they entered the final quarter.