They beat Warwickshire 13-11 at Aspatria with Alistair Ledingham kicking the vital penalty two minutes from the end.
Cumbria made a bright start and it was clear early on there was little to choose between the two sides and the game looked likely to go down to the wire.
The home side had a bit more pace behind the scrum and a bit more guile but Warwickshire were a solid outfit, ran the ball in hard and had the better of the set plays.
They dominated the line-outs and gave the home side a torrid time in the set scrum. Penrith’s Ryan Johnson had a busy afternoon at number eight cleaning up the scrappy ball but he did it with aplomb.
Warwickshire opened the scoring when they ran back a Cumbrian clearance kick and, although the attack was snuffed out, the home side were penalised at the breakdown and the penalty kick sailed between the posts.
Cumbria then spurned a chance to level the scores when they ran a penalty on the 22. It came to nothing and then they tried a much longer attempt but Ledingham’s kick fell just short.
Cumbria then put together the best piece of rugby of the afternoon to take the lead. The forwards had several driving plays with Johnson and Gary Hodgson to the fore before the ball was spun to the backs.
The move looked to have broken down but a deft touch by the classy Martin Armstrong saw a clever flick pass put Greg Smith away. The ball went to winger Paul Lancaster who looked to have lost the ball. Juggling, but finally reclaiming it, he got it away to Neil Warnock who was 30 metres out with the full-back to beat.
He stepped him and lost his feet but still had time to get back up and make the line for a 5-3 lead.
Cumbria were to extend their lead with a second try. They were awarded a penalty only 10 metres from the visitors’ line but it was too wide to kick at goal.
Billy Coxon took the tap and the Cumbria pack rumbled towards the line. In a melee of arms, legs and water Reece Tomlinson forced his way over and the Cumbrian lead went out to 10-3.
Cumbria were then forced on to the back foot and had to do a lot of defending and their tackling was excellent.
Warwickshire ran phase after phase with some purpose but the home defensive line held firm.
Rarely was the gain line broken as the tackles flew in and, tellingly, it was the whole side who were putting their bodies on the line.
There was not one man shirking his defensive duties although Cumbria did concede one score before half-time.
They were penalised at a line-out 25 metres out and the resulting penalty bisected the posts.
Leading 10-6 at half time the home side looked good value but it was anyone’s game.
Cumbria didn’t look as sharp in the second half and the game became one of attrition. Ledingham had the only real scoring chance for Cumbria when he appeared at outside centre and showed the vision he had all afternoon.
A chip over the oncoming defensive line saw him set off on the chase to the corner, which he looked favourite to win. He just failed to pick-up the ball off his toe end in the wet conditions and the chance was gone.
Such was the intensity of the home defensive effort that a Warwickshire try looked unlikely and it seemed as the game went into the final quarter that the home side had done enough.
It then came as something of a shock when they did score. They kicked a penalty to the 22, won the line-out as they had all afternoon and drove for the line.
Cumbria had held these drives without too much trouble but didn’t commit plenty of forwards and the visitors built up some momentum.
By the time the danger was apparent it was too late and the drive could not be held and the try was scored.
The conversion failed and with 12 minutes to go the visitors had their noses in front with the slenderest of leads at 11-10. They then sensibly played possession rugby in an attempt to run down the clock and Cumbria were seeing very little of the ball.
Ledingham did take on a penalty shot from half way but it didn’t have the legs and as the minutes ticked away it was looking like heartbreak once more.
Cumbria had possession in the visitors’ half with two minutes to go. Martin Armstrong ran the ball on the angle towards the pack and into heavy traffic. He broke the first line of defence but was then hauled down.
The visitors over committed, went over the top and Armstrong was unable to release the ball and the penalty was given.
The offence was 30 metres out and half way out to the touchline, not impossible but far from easy considering the circumstances and the conditions.
Ledingham, who had not succeeded with one place kick all afternoon, stepped forward. He is a confident young man and never looked in danger of missing it.
The home crowd erupted as they did two minutes later when the final whistle went so signal that Cumbria are off to Twickenham and it was down to the whole squad’s efforts – no superstars just guts and determination.