Bridlington’s big day at Twickenham ended in defeat, but not disgrace, as they were beaten 30-22 by Brighton Blues in the RFU National Intermediate Cup final.
After a nightmare start, Bridlington staged a stirring second-half fightback, inspired by two tries by the brilliant Sizwe Zondo.
The final turned into a battle of the full backs, with Brighton’s number 15 Alex Finch grabbing 20 points, including a wonderful 60-yard try.
Bridlington looked nervous and found themselves 20-0 down midway through the first half, but they gave a gutsy effort up to the final whistle, but just couldn’t quite get their noses in front at any stage.
Brighton kicked off, but their first attack came to nothing as Bridlington won the first scrum halfway inside their own half.
The Blues enjoyed the early possession and territory, and when play was brought back on the right flank, they kicked for a lineout 10 metres from Bridlington’s line. Bridlington couldn’t hold out, despite thwarting Luke Edwards and Richard Neil, Brighton worked an overlap down the left and Steve Dean dived over in the corner.
Alex Finch added an excellent conversion and having hardly touched the ball, Bridlington were 7-0 down in five minutes.
They regrouped but were finding themselves on the back foot too often and were conceding too many penalties, one of which gave Finch the opportunity to increase Brighton’s lead to 10-0.
It took a dropped pass by Will Fell to give Bridlington their first taste of possession in the Brighton half, but they were penalised before they got as far as the 22. From the resulting scrum, Fell made amends carrying the ball 50 yards before a last ditch tackle by Zondo forced him into touch.
Brighton’s efficient lineout set up their next wave of attacks, as bursts by Edwards and Jess Thompsett gained considerable yards and it ended with Finch hitting the post from another penalty. Mellonby hoisted a big kick downfield which Tom Aiken made a mess of collecting and Bridlington has escaped.
Slowly, with 20 minutes gone, Bridlington seemed to be settling, but their first decent move along the backs ended on halfway when Ryan Girking’s pass to AJ Burrows went forwards.
A rare venture forwards by Bridlington ended when Muru’s kick was charged down and minutes later referee Andrew Jackson showed the first yellow card of the game to Bridlington’s Girking.
Further punishment arrived from the boot of Finch, who slotted over the penalty. 13-0 after 28 minutes.
Three minutes later Finch stole the show. He received the ball inside his own half and showed tremendous speed and agility to weave past several flailing tackles and score a try under the posts. He converted too.
It looked like there was no way back.
Clearly strugging, Bridlington made two changes, withdrawing Heeley and Burrows, and immediately put their first points on the board with a drop goal by Jamie Muru.
Immediately, Bridlington got a try. Adam Dixon charged down a kick, and although he lacked the pace to get to the line before Keith Molyneux tackled him, Martin Robinson spread the ball wide to Sizwe Zondo and he eased over. Steveie Mellonby missed a tricky conversion.
It needed a good tackle by Muru to stop Fell as he headed for the corner, after Brighton had switched play across the field, and Bridlington had held on to only be 12 points behind at the break.
Bridlington started the second half well, camping themselves in the Brighton half. And after Muru switched play to the left, eventually Zondo burst through the defensive line and dummied a pass to Tom Kemp, opening up space for him to dart over the line.
Mellonby added the simple conversion.
Zondo was called into action at the other end, holding up Fell yards from the line, and determined work by replacement Ryan Kerr stopped another attack and Bridlington were able to kick to safety.
But luck was not on Bridlington’s side on 49 minutes. A kick bounced up awakwardly in the corner, deceiving Mellonby and captain Will Smith was able to pounce from close in. Finch was immaculate with the boot again.
Talisman Muru limped off to be replaced by Will Davies, and Jimmy Thompson made way for Paddy Waines.
Good work by the forwards, especially Auryn Murray, took Bridlington up the pitch and Kemp’s perceptive kick to the wing was only just too strong for Mellonby.
Then, Morgan Kinnaird, Murray and Waines bullied their way to within five metres of the line, and a tap penalty set up another surge. Brighton conceded another penalty and Dan Solofuti was yellow carded.
Kinnaird hobbled off, and Ben Lawry replaced him. Desperate defending held Bridlington up time and again before eventually Lee Warley found a gap and piled over.
A brilliant conversion by Mellonby on the touchline reduced the gap to just five points.
The Blues replied with a penalty by Finch, but he proved he was not quite perfect with a missed drop goal soon afterwards.
With 10 minutes to go, Bridlington found themselves in the wrong half of the pitch and couldn’t find a way to get on the offensive.
Molyneux should have killed the game off but dropped a simple pass from Neil McGovern five yards out, and Bridlington were never able to get a launchpad to make the final few minutes nervy for Brighton, despite their brave efforts.