Durham rugby going back to top flight and going to Twickenham in Billy Beaumont Cup final

FIRST TRY: Cameron Mitchell scores for Durham in the win over East Midlands
FIRST TRY: Cameron Mitchell scores for Durham in the win over East Midlands

ONE down, one to go.

Durham have achieved their first aim in rugby’s County Championship – a return to the top division of the Billy Beaumont Cup.

In 12 months they will be rubbing shoulders with their old northern rivals Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria in the highest echelon.

But in just six days time they have Kent to rub shoulders with .... at Twickenham.

It is a dream date for Durham who will be looking to triumph at the home of rugby for the first time for 25 years.

And it was fitting that 13 members of the Durham squad which beat Cornwall 13-9 on April Fool’s Day in 1989 were at Blackwell Meadows to witness the class of 2014 do the business in this winner-takes-all clash.

Martin Pepper and Chris Hyndman’s team were forced to show as much spirit and style.

Durham would have loved a glorious, dry day but instead they were greeted with a wet and wretched afternoon in Darlington.

And they were greeted with a massive set of East Midlands forwards.

The away pack put Durham on the back foot early on and went in front with a fifth-minute unconverted try.

A penalty 17 minutes later extended the East Midlands lead to 8-0 and Durham were forced to concentrate on their defence.

And that defence was superb as they refused to buckle against the visitors.

But after an all-East Midlands first quarter, Durham began to work their way into the match.

And they made sure they went into the break just a point behind after Darlington Mowden Park centre Cameron Mitchell, who had lost midfield partner Gavin Painter to a knee injury, went over for his first try.

Durham University scrum-half Henry Johnson added the conversion.

Durham had the elements at their backs for the second period and it took just four minutes to go ahead when Johnson landed a penalty.

Seven minutes later, flanker Callum Mackenzie touched down with Johnson adding the conversion to give Durham some breathing space at 17-8.

East Midlands kept batting away to the final whistle but they could not break the home defence.

With the Midlanders attacking in desperation, Mitchell snatched the ball and his interception took him all the way from his own 22 to score under the posts.

Johnson added the extra points to put the seal on Durham’s victory.

It was a day to savour for all the county players, but especially for Richie Thirkell.

The Horden hooker, part of his club’s Durham Northumberland One title-winning team, said: “I am absolutely buzzing.

“East Midlands were massive, absolute monsters, but our defence was really, really good.

“They had the first 20 to 25 minutes but we soaked up their pressure and then we started to play our rugby.

“We got it back to 8-7 at half-time and then kicked on in the second half and did the business.”

Horden team-mate Paul Malcolm missed the match due to work commitments, but former Welfare Park team-mate, Owen Bennett, now with West Hartlepool, came on as sub in the Durham pack.

Durham: Husband, McCartney, Mitcell, Painter, Wilson, T Hodgson,. Johnson, Appleby, Thirkell, Davison, Wearmouth, Rumus, O Hodgson, McKenzie, Powell

Subs used: Morris, Forrester, Bennett, Dodd, Bramwell, Dominick

East Midlands: Veenendaal, Cooksammy, Devlin-Jones, Green, Harrison, Browne, White, Wiolliams, Locke, Laws, Pooe, Holliday, Dewdney, Stanton, Daynes.

Referee: Chris Bennett