Keswick 23-11 Whitehaven

Keswick beat Whitehaven 23-11 to lift the Cumbria League Cup and complete the double.

They had already won the league title to regain their place in North Lancs Cumbria after three years away, and this cup success rounded off an excellent season.

Whitehaven, who finished league runners-up, can still gain compensation as they have a promotion play-off final to look forward to, and the chance to join Keswick in the North Lancs Cumbria.

For the final, at Cockermouth, Keswick were the favourites, having won both times the teams had met during the league season, though both games had been very close.

The conditions were dry and sunny but there was a swirling wind blowing, mostly diagonally down the pitch.

Whitehaven, supported by a good number of travelling fans, played the first half with the wind behind them. But their heavier pack came under pressure from a well-drilled Keswick eight in the first scrum, which ended with a penalty to Keswick.

With three further penalties against them in the first five minutes, all for high tackles, Whitehaven put themselves under unnecessary pressure.

However, they made good use of the wind to pin Keswick back in their 22, winning a penalty for not releasing in the tackle, but failing to capitalise on it.

Both sides managed to put together good periods of possession and play before Whitehaven were again penalised for their fourth high tackle with only 10 minutes gone.

But Whitehaven pushed Keswick back into their own 22 from a penalty before winning a further penalty in front of the posts for a late tackle, and this was converted by Steven McConnell to give them the lead.

Keswick continued their dominance in the line-outs and the scrums, where Whitehaven struggled to win on their own put-in, but were unable to penetrate a strong defence.

Both teams tried to run the ball wide despite the conditions, which led to an entertaining display for the supporters. At a breakdown, following a scrum, Whitehaven won another penalty in front of the posts and it was again put over by McConnell for a 6-0 lead with 25 minutes gone.

From the restart, Keswick pressure saw them receive a penalty for offside, and this duly converted by Andy Muir to reduce the deficit at 6-3.

Keswick continued to dominate the set-pieces and, despite the wind against them, kicked the ball into the Whitehaven 22. The clearing kick was charged down for George Holme to collect the rebound and charge for the try line.

Tackled short, the ball was picked up by Olly Macpherson who scored in the corner to the delight of the Keswick supporters. The try went unconverted but Keswick now led for the first time, 8-6, which is where it stayed until half-time despite a lot of pressure by Whitehaven.

The second half started as the first had finished, with both sides driving round the sides of the rucks and mauls before giving the backs a chance to run at the opposition.

Shortly after the restart, yet another high tackle by Whitehaven resulted in the game’s first yellow card, perhaps a sanction that should have been used earlier as time would show. Muir’s penalty was successful in extending Keswick’s lead to five points.

Both sides then had periods where they retained possession, but with most of the play in the centre of the pitch, neither try line was threatened before the first high tackle by Keswick was punished by the second yellow card of the game.

Sustained pressure by Whitehaven in the Keswick 22, driving round the sides of the rucks, ended with a try by Jamie Martin in the right-hand corner that was not converted.

With the scores now tied at 11-11, the stage was set for an exciting last 20 minutes.

That try seemed to give Whitehaven increased confidence but Keswick’s forward dominance kept them in check until an attack down the right by Keswick allowed Macpherson to make a final pass for Andy Wallace to score an unconverted try in the right-hand corner.

It was now Keswick that were galvanised and an attack down the left culminated in a try for Jamie McKenzie, converted by Muir to increase Keswick’s lead even further, to 12 points, effectively putting the game beyond Whitehaven’s reach.