Launceston 31 Oxford Harlequins 31

LAUNCESTON’S hopes of progressing out of the group stage are all but over after being held to a 31-31 draw by Oxford Harlequins at Polson Bridge.

Having narrowly been beaten 12-8 by Barnstaple in their opener, the All Blacks knew that nothing but a win would do with just one side going through to the semi-finals.

And despite running in five tries, the Regional One Midlands champions did likewise to set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Barnstaple who won 59-22 at Banbury, next Saturday.

After some late tinkering, Launceston made one change from the week before as former captain Lloyd Duke started at flanker in place of the unavailable Charlie Tummon.

On the bench were Adam Collings and Dan Pearce, the latter having been out since January with a knee injury.

On a sunny day at Polson Bridge and with both sides desperately needing a win, it was all out attack from both.

Launceston started the better and took the lead on five minutes as Cam Fogden’s superb trick pass set up James Tucker to free left winger Jamie Chapman to go over in the corner.

Although Tucker missed the conversion, the lead was doubled on ten minutes through fly-half Todd Crofts after the Cornishmen won a lineout on the 22. Tucker added the kick for a 12-0 lead.

The visitors lost just four times in securing promotion to National League rugby next term, and utilised their impressive backs whenever they could.

After two tries were deemed to have been held up by referee Dan Thurgood, they did eventually cross on 22 minutes from a driving maul through hooker Sheldon Graddon. Fly-half Ewan Fox made it 12-7.

Launceston had a try disallowed through Crofts on 26 minutes after a superb counter-attack involving Fogden, Albert Horne and man of the match Ollie Bebbington, but soon after they were over as Bebbington was the quickest to the loose ball after visiting scrum-half Harry Burn was offside.

The Harlequins made it a hat-trick of knock-ons in the 22 after another rapid break, and they conceded again just before half-time as number eight Brandon Rowley finished off a five-metre scrum after Launceston drove the visitors over the line (24-7).

Oxford knew they needed bonus points at the very least to make Saturday’s final day clash interesting, and within 16 minutes of the restart were level.

First, Fox ran in from halfway on 43 minutes before Burn dotted down under the posts ten minutes later.

Full-back Archie Van Dijk then dived over in the corner, and although Fox’s kick was short, it was 24-24.

The visitors were held up over the line for a third time just after the hour, but on 66 minutes they went in front as flanker Alex Knight dotted down after another break. Fox’s boot was on target (31-24).

Roared on by the Polson Bridge faithful, and despite being outplayed, Launceston geared themselves up again and won a penalty deep in the visitors’ 22.

And although they were penalised, play was soon back there again and on 80 minutes Horne barged over.

Pearce added the simple extras to make it all square.

But despite a late yellow, the visitors held on for the draw which all but knocks Launceston out.

LAUNCESTON: James Tucker, Ollie Bebbington, Ben Bryant, Cam Fogden, Jamie Chapman, Todd Crofts, Tom Sandercock (capt); Mitch Hawken, Levent Bulut, Alex Bartlett, Dan Goldsmith, Albert Horne, Lloyd Duke, George Bone, Brandon Rowley. Replacements: Ethan Pearce-Cowley, James Redwood, Adam Collings, Dan Pearce.

Tries: Chapman, Crofts, Bebbington, Rowley, Horne; Convs: Tucker (2), Pearce; Pens: N/A.

Launceston man of the match: Ollie Bebbington.