Scarborough RUFC’s dreams of a Twickenham final were dashed when they were edged out 10-6 by visitors Bridgnorth in a thrilling National Intermediate Cup semi-final in front of 1,783 supporters at Silver Royd.
Bridgnorth came into this game as firm favourites on the back of a 100 per cent record this season and looked as if they would overrun the Seasiders in the opening exchanges in front of a passionate and noisy record crowd, but having scored a slick early try the Shropshire side ended a pulsating 80 minutes hanging on to a slender lead which took them to a Twickenham final and broke Scarborough hearts.
Bridgnorth started with confidence and breaks through the middle by fly-half Dave Hadkiss and centre Will Crossley had the home defence at panic stations and it was no surprise when a line-break deep in the Scarborough half saw wing Will Biddell romp in after 10 minutes and add the extras himself for a 7-0 lead.
And Biddell nudged the visitors 10-0 ahead five minutes later with a long-distance effort when Scarborough infringed on halfway.
The west-Midlanders continued to press and only a scything tackle by Scarborough centre Billy Parker on visiting full-back Simon Fletcher prevented a second Bridgnorth try.
With the introduction of tight-head prop Paul Taylor from the bench midway through the half, Scarborough took control in the scrums and had the visitors on the rack.
Harry Domett was a constant danger on the left wing and following a break by fellow winger Joe Marshall in midfield, skipper Tom Ratcliffe released the flying Kiwi who almost made it to the line in the 29th minute.
But it was in the forwards the Seasiders dominated with Taylor in destructive form.
Scarborough parked in the visitors’ 22 for the closing stages of the half as Bridgnorth conceded a series of penalties mostly for collapsed scrums before prop Ryan Smeilus was sin-binned.
However, persistent infringement by the visitors on their own line with Scarborough going forward did not convince referee Mr Stentiford to award a penalty try and Bridgnorth were fortunate to survive with their 10-0 lead intact.
Scarborough started the second half as they had ended the first and could have scored from the re-start when a break by fly-half Tom Harrison took play almost to the visitors’ line.
However some doughty defending and a lack of composure by the home side saw the chance evaporate.
The story of the second half was of almost constant forward pressure from the Seasiders and ‘backs to the wall’ defending by a doggedly determined Bridgnorth side who conceded penalty after penalty at scrum time only for Scarborough to go for another scrum.
Scarborough really should have varied things when, even considering their dominance at the scrum, they didn’t look likely to push the visitors over for a try.
The home side finally decided to take the points at a penalty in the 54th minute and Harrison reduced the arrears to seven points at 10-3 with the kick.
Bridgnorth did break the shackles on the hour and a swift break down their left flank took the deep into the Scarborough 22, however a wayward final pass was intercepted and Harrison cleared his lines.
Former skipper Phil Watson was introduced in the final quarter of the game as was Corey Dennis at full-back but Scarborough kept pounding away up-front to no avail.
Harrison added a second penalty in the 70th minute to cut the deficit to four points and it was game-on in a pulsating finale.
Twice in the last two minutes while marching the visiting eight back, the Seasiders were penalised for scrum offences and Bridgnorth held on for a final whistle which was greeted by jubilation in their ranks.
Every Scarborough player gave their all in a massive team effort but their decision making, execution and game management did not quite match their total physical commitment.
Their opponents’ impressive unbeaten record gave them the winning habit and mentality to shut up shop in the face of constant Scarborough pressure for three-quarters of a game that changed completely when peerless prop Paul Taylor was introduced.
I won’t even attempt to pick a player from a magnificent pack but behind them centre Billy Parker had his best game for the club.