England Saxons win Churchill Cup
Miles Benjamin scored two spectacular tries on his home ground to earn England Saxons a sixth and final Churchill Cup title.
The Worcester Warriors wing raced 70 metres for a first half interception try – then soared to claim Rory Clegg’s superb cross-kick and put the Saxons out of sight on the hour.
Sale Sharks flanker James Gaskell, Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples and London Irish flanker Jamie Gibson also touched down with Harlequins fly half Clegg adding three conversions and two penalties against a hard-nosed Canada side that proved tough to break down.
They responded with a first-half drop goal from fly half Ander Munro and a penalty from James Pritchard but couldn’t turn some thrilling counter-attacks into points on the board.
The Saxons had broken a Churchill Cup points record with their 13-try 87-8 win over the USA and followed it up with a 41-14 win against Tonga that included three penalty tries.
Canada, though, are a level above both those teams at 15th in the IRB rankings and recognised as a well-organised side with a mean-spirited defence which they underlined for long spells at Sixways.
So while the Saxons enjoyed plenty of early possession, they only had Rory Clegg’s penalty – cancelled out by Munro’s drop goal – in the bank after the opening 20 minutes.
They broke the deadlock with one superb score – Jordan Crane, Mike Brown and James Gaskell combining down the left for Sale Sharks flanker Gaskell to score in the right hand corner.
Three minutes later it was Gaskell’s defensive pressure that delivered the ball to Benjamin who intercepted and went 80 metres to strike under the posts.
Clegg’s conversion put the Saxons 15-3 ahead but Canada dug in again and Pritchard kicked a 30thminute penalty and missed an equally kickable one shortly before the interval.
Clegg extended the lead with his second penalty 10 minutes into the second half and Canada survived one major scare when the fly half’s angled low kick created mayhem in their defence.
Chauncey O’Toole led one thrilling counter-attack though and Ciaran Hearn produced another surge down the right that threatened to haul Canada back into the game.
But their resistance was finally broken 20 minutes from time by Benjamin’s second score, Clegg’s cross-kick plucked out of the air at full pelt by the Worcester wing.
As the game broke up Canada were punished again as they lost the ball in attack, Mouritz Botha kicking through and Sharples regathering and holding off a tackler to roll over and score.
Gibson added a fifth try five minutes from time, following up to finish things off after Henry Trinder’s lightning break through the middle.
England Saxons: M Brown (Harlequins); C Sharples (Gloucester Rugby), H Trinder (Gloucester Rugby), B Twelvetrees (Leicester Tigers), M Benjamin (Worcester Warriors); R Clegg (Harlequins), P Hodgson (London Irish); M Mullan (Worcester Warriors), D Paice (London Irish), M Stevens (Saracens), M Botha (Saracens), G Kitchener (Worcester Warriors), J Gaskell (Sale Sharks), T Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), J Crane (Leicester Tigers, captain)
Replacements: J Gray (Harlequins) for Paice 70, N Catt (Bath Rugby) for Mullan 70, J Gibson (London Irish) for Kitchener 7, C Fearns (Sale Sharks) for Johnson 70, M Young (Newcastle Falcons) for Hodgson 65, A Goode (Saracens) for Brown 51, T Ojo (London Irish) for Benjamin.
Scorers: Tries – Benjamin 2, Gaskell, Sharples, Gibson. Conversions – Clegg 3. Penalties – Clegg 2.
Canada: M Evans; C Hearn, P Mackenzie, R Smith, J Pritchard; A Munro, S White; H Buydens, P Riordan (captain), B Erichsen, J Cumore, J Sinclair, C O'Toole, A Carpenter.
Replacements: T Hotson for Erichsen, N Dala for Carpenter, N Hirayama for Munro, C Trainor for Hearn.
Scorers: Drop-goal – Munro. Penalty – Pritchard.
Referee: R Poite (FFR)