By Tom Masters
The Bill Beaumont County Championship group stages reach a thrilling conclusion this weekend with no shortage of winner-takes-all ties.
One of them sees reigning champions Cornwall host Kent in a battle between the Bill Beaumont Division 1 South frontrunners at Camborne, with a trip to Twickenham on the line.
Cornwall have come out on top on the past three occasions, including on their way to the 2019 title, but each of those matches were decided by six points or fewer.
This year, both sides are level on nine points in the table, having each won matches against Hampshire and Somerset.
Kent are top of the pool on points difference but Director of Rugby Taff Gwilliam is well aware that Cornwall will pose a tough challenge.
He said: “We have been in this position before, we know what it takes and we know how tough the opposition are.
“We have pushed Cornwall close in recent years and we are looking forward to the weekend.
“It is not so much about them, it is about us performing to our optimum. We have done well against the sides we have played already.
“We’ve got a nice mixture of youth and experience, it is a lovely blend, we have an established head coach and a younger coach in charge of the back division - so this week is about us and what we can do.”
— Cornwall RFU 〓〓 (@Cornwallrugby) May 19, 2023
Opponents Cornwall come in with pedigree, as the most successful county in the competition’s history, and captain Fraser Honey is hoping to use that experience to their advantage.
“It is a hugely exciting week to be part of, for both sides it is win or bust, so it is a great occasion to get fired up for,” he said.
“The beauty of the County Championship is that you do not know too much about these teams, they are almost like unknown quantities.
“But it does have a semi-final feel to it and we are going to give it everything to get ourselves to the final - it is going to be one hell of a game.
“I was part of the squad for the last two campaigns, in 2019 and last season, which we were successful with and now we are desperate to go and do it again for a third time.”
Vying for their place to meet either Kent or Cornwall in the final on Sunday 28th May are Yorkshire and Lancashire in a hotly contested edition of the Roses clash.
Lancashire have won the title four times in the last decade, while Yorkshire have not featured in the showpiece since 2008, when they got the better of Devon.
🏆👍Good luck to all the teams taking part in the Bill Beaumont and Gill Burns County Championships this weekend!
👀Ahead of the weekend's action, we spoke to @Waterloonumber8 about her early memories of County rugby, and what the competition means to her⬇️ pic.twitter.com/u3VhFM7T1K
— Rugby Football Union (@RFU) May 19, 2023
Now the two sides renew a historic rivalry with a place at Twickenham at stake and they both go into this one unbeaten, having defeated Cheshire and Hertfordshire.
Lancashire coach Mark Nelson said: “This game has had an edge to it for centuries now, it is the Roses game and it is brilliant for the players from both sides who get to play in one.
“This weekend is a semi-final in all but name and the lads are really excited about it, everyone is buzzing and looking forward to a great game at Sedgley Park.
“We made a really good start at Cheshire in the first round, in the first half of that game we played some outstanding rugby and we came out with a very good win.
“We backed that up with a really hard-fought game against a revitalised Hertfordshire side.
“We have had a different pathway to this game from Yorkshire, but we are there and it is going to be a really tough game this coming weekend.
“This is the pinnacle of a Roses match, where there is an opportunity to play at Twickenham the following weekend - the stakes could not be higher.”
This Saturday 20th May 2023 15:00pm
The Clash of the Roses - the North Decider@yorkshire_rfu Men's County team are away at @SedgleyTigers, vs @LancsRfu
A win to takes either to @Twickenhamstad in @RFU Bill Beaumont County Championship Final
Get the support out#ForYorkshire pic.twitter.com/0c1xmT2ghE
— YorkshireRFU (@yorkshire_rfu) May 19, 2023
Yorkshire coach Peter Taylor said: “Training has gone well, we have had two good results, we think we have prepared really well.
“It went well against Hertfordshire and it went even better against Cheshire, then in terms of Lancashire, it is easy to say but it is just another game for us.
“That game will always mean something, whether it is now or 30 years ago.
“The players have been excited about playing in the County Championship right from the start, we have a group of players with not just talent but also players who see this as a real honour and a privilege, so the players we have got I know are excited to play for Yorkshire.
“Obviously with it being Lancashire, it has always got that added edge to it and it is basically a knock-out game so this game is huge.”
Elsewhere this weekend, in Division 1 North, Cheshire host Hertfordshire, while in Division 1 South, Somerset welcome Hampshire.
In Division 2 Pool 1, Durham are hoping to seal top spot as they take on a Cumbria side who need a bonus point win to overhaul them, while Staffordshire – who are also four points behind the leaders – host Northumberland.
Dorset & Wilts are looking to complete an unbeaten group stage as they welcome Berkshire in Division 2 Pool 2, in which Devon play Gloucestershire in the other game.
East Midlands lead the way in Division 2 Pool 3 and can make it three from three if they defeat Leicestershire, who are without a point so far. North Midlands and Eastern Counties, both four points behind East Midlands, will hope to take advantage of any slip-up from the leaders.
Oxfordshire can leapfrog Warwickshire into Division 3 Pool 1 top spot if they beat Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire & Derbyshire on Saturday. In Division 3 Pool 2, there is a winner-takes-all clash between Essex and Sussex – both level on 10 points – while Buckinghamshire host Surrey.
To keep up with the latest Gill Burns and Bill Beaumont County Championship fixtures and results, visit EnglandRugby.com and follow @RFU on Twitter