Hampshire 22pts, Leicestershire 12.

HAMPSHIRE celebrated a first appearance in a county championship final for 46 years by lifting the County Championship Plate trophy - and Basingstoke RFC players made telling contributions to the memorable victory.

'Stoke players Simon Buckland and Simon Appleby each scored tries in the final at Aldershot Military Stadium on Saturday.

As well as Buckland and Appleby, the victorious team featured five other players with Basingstoke connections - centre David Byett, wing Karl Buttle, fly-half Simon Humberstone, loosehead prop Neil Young and forward replacement Luke Richardson.

Hampshire went into the final against Leicestershire knowing that their four wins this season had already guaranteed them promotion to the second tier of the championship in 2008-09. However, the team wanted a final victory to put the icing on the cake.

Hampshire deserved Saturday's match spoils after a hard-fought win in blustery conditions.

During the game, Hampshire had plenty of ball and territorial advantage but their opponents kept making tackles in defence and looked dangerous when running the ball from deep positions.

Playing with the wind in the first half, Hampshire were soon on the attack but early errors allowed their opponents off the hook.

When given penalties, the Leicestershire side were keen to tap and go, causing problems in the Hampshire defence.

Against resolute cover, it took Hampshire 20 minutes to make the breakthrough with a try from 'Stoke flanker Appleby.

After a period of sustained pressure on the Leicestershire line, a final driving maul saw Appleby lead the Hampshire forwards as they crossed the line. Full-back Chris Ashwin added a tricky conversion for a 7-0 lead.

Hampshire continued their pressure with Leicestershire restricted to the occasional break-out.

A missed Ashwin penalty on 28 minutes failed to dampen Hampshire's spirit and they went further ahead on 35 minutes with a try from Havant No 8 Dylan Raubehheimer for a 12-0 lead.

Ashwin, who had a mixed day with the boot, missed the conversion and another penalty attempt on 40 minutes.

Leicestershire settled quickly at the start of the second half and, on 43 minutes, scored the first points that Hampshire had conceded in more than 370 minutes of this year's campaign.

'Stoke wing Buttle narrowly failed to collect a pass and Leicestershire pounced, opening their account with an interception try to close the deficit to 12-5.

This was the time for the Hampshire side to show their character, and they responded magnificently.

Keeping the ball tight, playing into the stiff breeze, they made their way into the opponents' 22.

After several attempts to score just failed, it was again a 'Stoke player who made the breakthrough as centre Buckland crossed the line on 50 minutes. A successful conversion resulted in a 19-5 lead.

Leicestershire played their part in what was turning into an enjoyable match, and they responded five minutes later when a clever switch move saw them breach the Hampshire defence again. The converted try meant they closed to 19-12.

Back came Hampshire again, camping in their opponents' 22, but they were unable to score as errors close to the line allowed Leicestershire to clear.

On at least six occasions, Hampshire knocked the ball on within 10 metres of the Leicestershire line as they tried to move further ahead.

The pressure finally told when a penalty was awarded to Hampshire on 72 minutes, but Ashwin narrowly missed as the breeze took the ball wide of the posts.

However, he made amends seven minutes later, converting a penalty on the 22 to give Hampshire a winning 22-12 lead.

Leicestershire battled to the end but Hampshire held firm.

The final whistle went on 85 minutes and was met with a joyous response by the Hampshire squad and their supporters - the team celebrating victory in their first final since they faced Warwickshire at Twickenham in 1962.

After the match, delighted team manager John Byett said: "It was a great team effort. This year it has been a joy to be part of a group of players from over 10 clubs who came together, gelled and went the distance."

Hampshire: C Ashwin; R Buck, S Buckland (rep S Claffey), D Byett (rep K Molyneux), K Buttle; S Humberstone, G Morris (rep A Ashwin); N Young, S Cruddas (rep M Pearse), T Wells (rep K Osborne), S MacKechnie, R Forster, H Heasman, S Appleby, D Raubenheimer (rep T Radbourne, rep L Richardson).