The final round of the RFL President's Cup, which was a winner takes all game for the competition title, saw a game of two halves with England Universities leaving themselves too much to do after trailing 0 - 22 at the break and, despite a stunning comeback by the students, UK Armed Forces were the worthy winners of both the match and the 2019 title. Both sides started with some nerves, with the ball bobbling around in the mid-field on a number of occasions and England were disrupted by the loss of Nathan Taylor just five minutes into the game with a back injury.
It took 14 minutes for Declan Baines to score the first of his Armed Forces hat-trick, scything through England's right side and giving Lennox Green an easy shot on goal.
Five minutes later, hooker Kev Brown danced his way through the front row of England's defence after a close range pass from Green, setting up an easy shot on goal for Green to convert.
As the half hour mark approach, Baines went through again off a flat pass at the line, again Green added the extras, and shortly afterwards the halfback scooped up a dropped ball from Lee Registe to touchdown, this time Green was unable to convert.
If England's tail had been between their legs when they went in at half time, it certainly wasn't in the second half. Lee Registe finally got the red and whites off the mark, finding space out wide, but Lewis Fairhurst was unable to convert.
After Matthew Chrimes was penalised for lifting Baines in the tackle, Green stretched the Forces lead by a further two points from the penalty with 25 minutes of the game remaining.
Both sides slugged it, with England trying everything to get back into the game but the Forces defence was relentless, spurred on by their forefathers' D-Day heroics almost 75 years ago to the day.
England finally seemed to click with just seven minutes remaining, with Registe scoring a carbon copy try of his previous effort, but this time Fairhurst found his mark. Kieran Smith scored the try of the game 3 minutes later, following Dan Munt's explosive break and Lewis Munyoro's support play which Fairhurst also converted.
As Callum Fletcher burrowed over in the 78th minute to score from dummy-half, the impossible seemed a reality. Fairhurst missed the quick conversion but, with victory in their reaches, England returned the ball from the kick off with the grit and determination but were unable to get beyond the 80 metre mark before time was up.
England rued not putting in an 80 minute performance together, and respectfully applauded the UK Armed Forces who raised the trophy and celebrated their second President's Cup title since the competition was launched in 2014.
England Universities: Lewis Fairhurst, Lee Registe, Matthew Chrimes, Josh Boulger, Nathan Taylor, Alex Bielby, Kieran Smith, Andrew Joy, Callum Fletcher, Kai Fagan, Ryan Langton, Jacob Jones, Caley Gray. Interchanges: Lewis Munyoro, Daniel Munt, Sean Croston, Tom Jubb, Craig Banks, Conner MacCallum, Dan Gover.
England Universities Scorers: Tries: Lee Registe (47, 73), Kieran Smith (76), Callum Fletcher (78) Goals: Lewis Fairhurst 2/4
UK Armed Forces: Jefeti Vakalalabure, Uraia Nausalua, Eldon Myers, Micky Hoyle, Luke Cooper, Declan Baines, Lennox Green, Ryan Watkin, Kev Brown, George Clarke, Jordan Kerman, Liam Bradley, Ben Taylor. Interchanges: Danny Heaton, Nathan Barker, Ben Mellor, Pete Holmes.
UK Armed Forces Scorers: Tries: Declain Baines (14, 27, 35) Goals: Lennox Green 4/5
Referee: Connor Astbury