WHILE this might have been a game that kept defensive coaches from both sides studying their laptops beyond midnight, it did secure the second leg of a potential treble for Bradford Salem.

With the Counties One Yorkshire title securely in their locker, Salem defeated Manchester’s Old Aldwinians 54-41 in a sun-baked, points-filled Papa John’s Community Cup Counties One North Plate final at Darlington’s Mowden Park on Saturday.

What awaits skipper Christian Baines and his troops now is a mouth-watering Yorkshire Shield final against derby rivals Keighley at Doncaster RUFC this weekend.

In many ways, this final resembled a basketball match, and Salem’s head coach Bob Hood reflected: “I told the lads at half-time that I was disappointed in the way that we had lost our shape in defence.

“It was unusual for us to leak those sort of tries and basically we needed to tighten it up, but with ball in hand we have learnt this season that we are capable of coming good in the last 20 or 30 minutes.”

Hood added of their opponents, who finished third in Counties Lancashire and Cheshire, above such former greats as West Park (St Helens), Wilmslow and Broughton Park: “I thought that Old Aldwinians were very good in defence, put us under pressure and threw the ball around with great courage and it was a fantastic final.

“But I felt that their endurance levels must go down at some time and they only needed to make an odd mistake.

“Vasu (Adrea Vasuitoga) on the right wing was outstanding, and it was a turning point when he stripped the ball in a one-on-one tackle and saved a lot of heartache.

“However, I was disappointed that we couldn’t get away from them.

“Every time we seemed to go away from them they came back at us, and that is credit to Old Aldwinians who come from a proud background (former British Lions captain Eric Evans used to play for them) and they certainly did their club proud.

“The players suffered in the heat on both sides, but it is easier to suffer with ball in hand.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Chairman Neil Klenk and captain Christian Baines bask in the glory of victory in Darlington.Chairman Neil Klenk and captain Christian Baines bask in the glory of victory in Darlington. (Image: Mark Fletcher/RFU via MI News.)

On a pitch where the grass was very short and bare patches were evident on the halfway line and near the touchlines, Salem were down 7-0 early to a Reuben Holland try and Alex Hughes conversion.

But they hit back in the eighth minute with a try by Pauli Pauli and a conversion by fly half Andy Robinson, who certainly had his kicking boots on.

Vasuitoga then made his first big impact on the final, cutting inside from the right to score near the posts, allowing Robinson an easier conversion.

However, the sin-binning of Salem’s Suiai Matagi, for leading with his shoulder with ball in hand, gave Old Aldwinians a boost, and Alex Hughes kicked the resultant penalty to reduce the deficit to 14-10.

But back came the Heaton side, Vasuitoga intercepting near halfway to run in for a 16th-minute try that Robinson converted.

Naturally, Old Aldwinians scored next, flanker Ben Marsland chipping ahead before an inside pass put Tom Hughes in for a try that Alex Hughes converted, closing the gap to four points again.

On the half-hour mark, lock Dom Bailey scored Salem’s fourth try, with dead-eye Robinson landing the conversion to stretch his side’s advantage to 11 points.

But back came the Tameside opponents with a Jack Taylor try and Alex Hughes conversion, and there was still time for the latter to end a breathless half with a penalty, making the interval score 28-27 in Salem’s favour.

The second half was little different, and Bailey scored again a minute in, Robinson adding the extras, as he did just before the hour mark after an opportunist try by scrum half Callum Smith.

At last, Salem had clear water at 42-27, but then Baines was sin-binned for a tip tackle on 63 minutes.

Old Aldwinians cashed in two minutes later with a try in the left-hand corner by Holland, Alex Hughes converting to pull the margin back to eight points.

A yellow card followed in the 75th minute for Old Aldwinians for collapsing a maul, and Salem hooker James Brown then scored his 12th try of the season, Robinson for once missing the conversion.

Three minutes later, Salem made the game safe when Ed Cook scored their eighth try to bring up the half-century, Robinson adding the extras.

But the last word went to Old Aldwinians as Holland completed his hat-trick, Alex Hughes converting to bring the match tally to a remarkable 95 points.

Hood then revealed that Salem’s thoughts have already turned to Keighley this coming Saturday, saying: “Bainesy said in his post-match team talk he said that that was it now (for the Papa John’s competition) and that we look forward to next week.

“We have done the double of league champions and regional champions and now we just need the Shield for the treble.”