All our yesterdays: Cup special
This week as attention switches from the Gallagher Premiership to the Premiership Rugby Cup, it is worth remembering that the club in its various guises has an excellent cup pedigree, having reached six Twickenham finals when the competition took the form of a knock-out technically open to all clubs.
Of those six finals, four resulted in victories (1976, 1977, 2001 and 2004) with the 1981 and 1999 finals ending in defeat.
The National Knock-out Cup was first contested in 1971, but Gosforth did not participate until 1973. Eligibility for entry was initially based a club’s performance in the previous season’s county cup competition and later, before the introduction of leagues, on placings in RFU-recognised merit tables. As perennial winners of the Northumberland County Senior Cup – they won it 13 years in a row between 1971 and 1983 – Gosforth became automatic entrants.
Whilst most people can remember the finals at Twickenham, the successful semi-finals are often overlooked. Many professional sportsmen with experience of knock-out competition have stated that losing a semi-final and missing out on the showcase final occasion is worse than losing the final. In this article I will try to jog the memories of some truly memorable semi-finals.
**SALE 3 – 12 GOSFORTH – APRIL 3, 1976**
Having seen off Hartlepool Rovers 35-9 at home in the first round, Gosforth were drawn away from home all of the way through to the final. They defeated Liverpool 19-12 in the second round and Roundhay 14-3 in the quarter-final before travelling to Sale’s Heywood Road for an all northern semi-final.
In what was seen as a match-up between Gosforth’s much-vaunted pack and Sale’s three-quarters it was Gosforth’s centre Ken Britton who was the game’s outstanding player, closely followed by flanker Peter Dixon and scrum-half Malcolm Young, who outplayed the incumbent England scrum-half Steve Smith.
Gosforth almost went ahead in the opening minute, and it was 12 minutes before Sale were able to escape from their own half. The visitors had nothing to show for their supremacy, however, as Young missed a penalty attempt and Sale went ahead when fly-half Steve Rule kicked a penalty awarded for obstruction.
Gosforth continued to dominate, Richard Breakey missing with a drop goal attempt, and Britton and full-back Brian Patrick both going close to scoring tries. Such was the dominance of their scrum that they took eight strikes against the head, and it was from one of these that they finally opened their account.
From first-phase ball Britton made a half-break, and whilst waiting for a support player to loop round to receive a pass he spotted a gap which he exploited to run in for the try, which Young converted to give the visitors a 6-3 lead.
Neither side could muster another try although Young and wing Alan Moor were both held up over the Sale line, and the pack came close to a pushover try before Moor again, Patrick and Steve Gustard all went close.
The win was effectively sealed in the 75th minute when Young broke clear, only to be flattened by a haymaker from Sale and England prop Fran Cotton, who had been comprehensively outplayed by Colin White. This was far from the first punch to be thrown by Cotton, but the first to be spotted by the referee, who sent him off.
Young picked himself up to kick the resultant penalty and kicked another deep into injury time following a late tackle.
**Gosforth:** B.Patrick; A.Moor; H.Patrick; K.Britton; S.Gustard; R.Breakey; M.Young; C.White; D.Madsen; A.Cutter; T.Roberts; J.Short; A.Preston; P.Dixon; D.Robinson.
**Sale:** R.Baker; J.Drake; M.Smaje; A.Percival; A.Dunning; S.Rule; S.Smith; A.Henry; J.Lansbury; F.Cotton; R.Trickey; J.Gardiner; G.Dimont; M.Murray; R.Creed.
As the first northern based club to reach the final Gosforth had finally arrived on the national stage, after building patiently for almost two decades. In the final they met Rosslyn Park, who had lost to Bedford in the previous season’s final.
The match was again marred by a sending off, which was a rare event in those days, when Park’s flanker Bob Mordell departed after seven minutes for punching. Nevertheless, Gosforth struggled to overcome the 14 men before pulling away in the dying minutes for a 23-14 victory.
**LONDON WELSH 12 – 18 GOSFORTH – APRIL 2, 1977**
Despite being drawn at home all of the way up to the semi-final, Gosforth’s route to the final was far tougher than the previous year. First up were Coventry, who had won the competition in 1973 and 1974.
Gosforth won a tight game 12-6 before being drawn at home to London junior club Fullerians in the second round. This was a straightforward affair with the visitors outclassed 48-0, leaving Gosforth to face Gloucester in a brutal quarter-final.
Gloucester had two tries disallowed and constantly fell foul of international referee Norman Sansom, who required a police escort to the dressing room after being surrounded by angry Gloucester followers at the final whistle. The game’s sole score was a Malcolm Young penalty for a 3-0 win.
Despite the narrow score-line the semi-final at Old Deer Park was a much more straightforward affair as Gosforth comprehensively outplayed a London Welsh side containing several players from the then-dominant Welsh national side. They outscored the exiles by two tries to nil despite a 4-12 penalty count. London Welsh only once looked like scoring, and by the end they resorted to trying to run everything from their own line, frequently coughing up possession. Wing Clive Rees was well shackled by Steve Gustard, of whom he appeared to be in awe.
Gosforth went ahead after just five minutes with a well-worked try, converted from wide out by Brian Patrick. Breakey made the initial half break, Roger Uttley took it on before linking with Dave Robinson, who fed Terry Roberts charging up outside to score in the corner. Welsh narrowed the gap to three points with a Bennett penalty before Patrick kicked two monster penalties for the visitors, one from several feet inside his own half.
A steady stream of penalties kept Welsh in the game, Bennett kicking two of them to narrow the gap again at 12-9 at the break.
The crucial score came just five minutes after the re-start. Young broke blind to feed Gustard, the ball came back to Uttley who took it into contact and Young fed it to Britton, who slipped it over his shoulder to fellow centre Harry Patrick to run in under the posts, leaving an easy conversion for his younger brother.
Gosforth had little trouble in defending their lead against an increasingly desperate Welsh, although Bennett managed to kick a fourth penalty following a lineout offence.
Despite attracting only a few hundred followers for home games Gosforth had been vocally represented in a crowd in excess of 10,000, swelled by a large number of London-based exiled Geordies. Over 200 supporters made the journey to London by special train. Mindful that London Welsh wore the red of their national team, and in deference to the supporters in their green and white, the chief steward removed his red jacket for the entire journey!
**Gosforth:** B.Patrick; S.Gustard; H.Patrick; K.Britton; S.Archer; R.Breakey; M.Young; C.White; D.Madsen; A.Cutter; T.Roberts; J.Hedley; P.Dixon; D.Robinson; R.Uttley.
**London Welsh:** G.Fuller; C.F.W.Rees; K.Hughes; J.H.Shanklin; R.Ellis-Jones; W.N.Bennett; A.D.Lewis; S.K.Young; I.Thomas; B.Adam; C.Howcroft; M.G.Roberts; S.Warlow; J.Taylor; J.Mansfield.
Gosforth would go on to retain the cup, defeating Waterloo 27-11 in an all-northern final. The initial two national cup wins represented the pinnacle of Gosforth’s rise to the top of English club rugby. 25 years later in 2001, all of the players who had played a part in the two successful cup runs were guests of honour at a special dinner at Kingston Park to mark the 25th anniversary of the first cup win.
**GOSFORTH 24 – 3 MOSELEY – APRIL 4, 1981**
Gosforth could not make it three in a row but they were back in the semi-final in 1981 against Moseley, who had beaten them at the same stage at Gosforth two years earlier.
With merit table placing now determining seedings Gosforth entered the competition in the third round, seeing off Fylde 17-7 at home. This was followed by trips to Waterloo (12-9) and Nottingham (23-3).
Semi-final opponents Moseley were widely regarded as possessing the country’s strongest pack and faced a Gosforth side with just six players with experience of a semi-final – Patrick (B), Stuart Archer, Breakey, Young, White and Roberts. The famous back row of Robinson, Dixon and Uttley had all moved on, although Robbo was now the club coach.
Gosforth effectively ripped up the script and took the Moseley pack apart, despite being penalised several times for collapsing a scrum in which they were totally dominant. Flanker Bob Anderson opened the scoring with an eithth-minute try after charging down winger Perry’s hurried clearance kick. The second try came following a break by full-back Patrick. White was held up short but the ball was recycled, and Breakey cut through to feed centre partner Alan McMillan, who scored in the corner.
The third and final try was a remarkable affair. Young broke open from a scrum before switching to the blindside. John Butler picked a good line to charge through and hand on to Roberts, who flicked the ball on one-handed to Neil McDowell, who went over. David Johnson converted all three tries and kicked a penalty, as did Young. Moseley’s sole points came from a Perry penalty, although he missed with three other attempts.
Frank Clark’s programme notes for the match recorded the fact that the game was the 31st played by Gosforth in the competition since they first entered in 1973. Remarkably, Patrick and Young had played in every one of those games. Patrick had made his club debut in January 1970, and yet was still only 27. He was to go on tour in the summer with England to Argentina, although no caps were awarded in the international games.
**Gosforth:** B.Patrick; S.Archer; R.Breakey; A.McMillan; N.McDowell; D.Johnson; M.Young; C.White; R.Cunningham; J.Bell; T.Roberts; S.Bainbridge; R.Anderson; S.Smith; J.Butler.
**Moseley:** M.Cooper; A.Thomas; J.Desborough; C.Osborne; R.Laird; M.Perry; S.Morley; K.Astley; G.Cox; S.Acaster; R.Field; B.Ayre; N.Jeavons; D.Nutt; J.Beale.
Given the way that they had dismantled the Moseley pack, Gosforth were installed as favourites for the final against Leicester, who had won the competition in the previous two seasons. Whichever side were to win the final would get to keep the trophy.
It is somewhat ironic that the Gosforth pack were themselves outplayed by Leicester in the final, going down to a 15-22 defeat. Nevertheless, three finals in five years was no mean achievement and is a feat later to be repeated by the Falcons between 1999 and 2004.
*To be continued…*