A titanic battle swayed one and then the other at Goldington Road on Wednesday night as Ampthill completed a league and cup double by edging past underdogs Luton 17-13 in the East Midlands Cup final, writes Mark Wood.
Luton belied their lower league London One North status with a tenacious and dogged performance and even led 13-7 with 10 minutes to go, only for National League Three Midlands champions A’s to show their class in the closing minutes to score two tries and snatch victory.
A fleet-footed burst from deep by Jonathan Raven took Ampthill upfield early on and, after some patient build-up play, Lee Anker found a gap to cross on seven minutes and Paul Davies converted.
Ampthill started to concede too many penalties though and they were lucky not to see a man yellow-carded as Steve Ellis took full advantage to slot home a simple penalty for Luton on 13 minutes.
There was little between the two teams in a keenly-contested opening that saw both teams make errors.
Luton should have had their first try midway through the half when Amps struggled to stop a buccaneering run by Ellis and, as the ball was spread wide, Dave Brennan was just bundled into touch before he could find Tom Wilmore with the line at his mercy.
Tenacious defence by Luton prevented favourites Amps from building any real momentum and the Mid Beds side were put on the back foot on 31 minutes when Joe Sproston was sin-binned for showing too much aggression at the breakdown.
Ellis sent a drop-goal attempt just wide for Luton in first half stoppage-time, while a Tesh Edwards run from deep put theLuton side in trouble just before the whistle, but Amps were adjudged to be held-up over the line.
Half time Luton replacement Matt Yang lasted just three minutes before being yellow-carded and, although the South Beds side were driven off their own scrum moments later, they survived.
Both teams continued to fight manfully in a titanic tussle and it was Luton who wrested the lead on 58 minutes when A’s failed to deal with Tom Mahendran’s giant clearance kick and, although Edwards was unable to gather, Mahendran was on hand to collect and dart over. However, full-back Will Affleck’s kick lacked legs and fell shot of the posts.
And it was another steepling kick that led to Luton’s second try on 68 minutes when Kyle Palm fumbled and Ryan Staff was on hand to pick up the scraps and break before finding replacement Aiden Kenny on the outside to score, although Affleck’s difficult conversion again fell short.
However, A’s hit straight back as substitute Elliott Clement-Hill’s quicksilver break moments later opened up Luton’s defence and Lee Bray was on hand to power over, although Davies shanked his conversion attempt horribly wide.
With just one point in it that set up a grandstand finish and A’s regained the lead with four minutes to go when Sproston’s juggernaut run from close range proved impossible to stop, although Davies was again off-target as A’s led by four with just minutes left.
Luton launched some late attacks, but couldn’t find a way through and Clement-Hill’s swift break put them on the back foot as A’s forced a penalty on the line and a bout of handbags ensued.
Amps strangely chose to run rather than kick and, although they were held up over the line, the final whistle soon followed much to the delight of the Ampthill supporters.
Luton: Sam Pacey, Dave Irvine, Daniel Blinkhorn, Chris Depper, Pat Nelly, Jack Elston, Ryan Staff, Michael Western, Tom Mahendran, Tom Wilmore, Tesh Edwards, Steve Ellis, Dave Brennan, Chris Davies, Will Affleck. Replacements: Ryan Duffy, Luke Hammond, Ben Murphy, Adam Harris, Ben Kay, Matt Yang, Aiden Kenny, Ross Geraghty. T: Mahendran, Kenny. P: Ellis.
Amps: James Wright, Vili Ma’asi, Joe Sproston, Nick Lewis, Karl Braband, Lee Bray, Marc Popham, Phil Lane, Tom Warfield, Dan Lavery, Lee Anker, Jonathan Raven, Paul Davies, Dean Adamson, Gavin Williams. Replacements: Josh Smith, George Warner, Haydn Edwins, Jake Foster, Elliott Clement-Hill, Felix Stretton, Jake McCloud. T: Anker, Bray, Sproston. C: Davies.
Referee: Max Barnard.
Touch Judges: Peter Lyes and Paul Dickens.