BOYS Brigade Old Boys are through to the Durham Challenge Trophy final against South Tyneside College – but only just.
The Durham Northumberland Three champs bounced back from their Pyman Cup final defeat at Horden in style with a late fighback at Chester-le-Street.
They drew 39-39 at the Riverside in a thriller and progressed through to the May 15 final on the most tries rule – seven compared to the six from the hosts.
This was a game full of drama from start to finish.
The two previous league encounters gave Brigade a 16-4 try tally but cup holders Chester were determined to make their mark on Saturday in a tie where the lead changed hands seven times.
Brigade began the stronger, winning good possession in the home 22 where Jack Fletcher dominated the line-out.
Chester withstood the pressure, before developing a number of well executed three-quarter moves leading to the opening unconverted try.
A penalty extended the lead before Brigade once again asserted themselves.
Mark Craggs barged his way over in the corner for an unconverted try before Walker edged Brigade into a two-point lead with a similar effort.
Injury to full-back Lilley and centre Coverdale called for Dave Hetherington and O’Donovan to take over and as in previous games Brigade were able to rely on the committed services of their whole squad to achieve success.
Chester responded with an unconverted try and once more forced BBOB to defend. The home side were prepared to run the ball from their own half and on one such occasion O’Donovan made his trademark interception and raced under the posts. Foreman converted to give Brigade a four- point half-time lead.
Chester took the initiative during the opening phases of the second half, their centre partnership causing problems for the Hartlepool defence.
Two home tries ensued with one conversion to claim a 25-17 lead.
As in previous phases of the game, Brigade fought back with Thornton, Smith, Shaw and Paul Craggs in the thick of the forward action.
Corkin gained the touchdown in the corner as Brigade began to dominate. Sharp awareness by Arnell sent Foreman away, his elusive run taking him through the defence and under the posts to also add the conversion which put Brigade 29-25 ahead.
But Chester soon stormed into a seemingly invincible position. A combination of assertive home play and a tiring Brigade defence led to two converted scores and a 39-29 advantage with less than 10 minutes to play.
BBOB had to react quickly and they did, the forwards driving play into the home 22 and the hands of Arnell and Foreman sending Jonny Hetherington over.