Millfield win in thrilling St Joseph’s Festival

Millfield School produced a weekend of outstanding and clinical rugby to win the St Joseph’s Festival this weekend for the fifth time in the competitions history to bring them one short of Colston’s record number of victories. It would be a brave man who would bet against them matching that record soon.

It was a thrilling and entertaining weekend of rugby, made all the more impressive due to the weather. The rain came lashing down from the moment the players arrived and never really let up all weekend.

Despite this though there was an endeavour from many sides to keep the ball in hand and try to play, with an enthusiastic crowd refusing to allow their spirits to be dampened along with the sodden turf.

Following Saturday’s group stages, the top two from each group were placed into two new ‘Cup’ groups, while the bottom two were placed into two new ‘Plate’ groups. With the winners of each cup group competing for the title, and the winners of each plate group for the Plate.

The luck of the draw meant that on Sunday we had a ‘supergroup’ in the Cup tournament, with pre tournament favourite Millfield and Dulwich pitted together alongside dark horses Bedford, and Brighton College.

The other side of the draw saw Merchiston Castle, QEGS and John Fisher pitted against the hosts St Joseph’s College. With hundreds of supporters out to back the home side, despite the weather, it was going to take a quality side to stop them progressing.

John Fisher got off to a flying start though, defeating the home side 10-8 in their first fixture of the day despite the hostile atmosphere, the noise can probably still be heard reverberating around Suffolk. Fisher, buoyed by that performance won their other two games to set up a final against the winner of the other pool.

Pool B ‘s schedule fell perfectly, with hot favourites Millfield and Dulwich not set to meet until the final pool game, in what was expected to be an effective semi-final.

Both had to win against Bedford and Brighton first though, and did so with aplomb. Millfield had developed the habit over the weekend of scoring early, forcing pressure on the other team to score soon due to the short matches.

Dulwich meanwhile were using the exact tactics they used in last years successful season, using their excellent kicking game to get into the opponents 22, and then using their big ball carriers to drive from there.

The tactics were working for both sides, and the crowd swelled to watch them compete for a stop in the final, enthused by the quality of rugby both had shown throughout.

Millfield, as they had done so often, scored very early with an excellently worked try and put some real early pressure on Dulwich through the likes of Haines and Delahunty with their bullocking runs.

Dulwich though were not to be outdone, and aided by the vocal support of a few of their old boys, including last years Daily Mail Cup star – O’Flaherty, began to use their tactical game plan.

They pinned Millfield into their own 22 for the majority of the rest of the game, with Obano and Ibuanokpe carrying an exceptional amount of ball. The Millfield defence stayed solid though, repelling wave after wave of brutal Dulwich attack.

After the allotted twenty minutes of play, both sides trudged off the field exhausted, with players and fans alike feeling as though they’d given far more than just 20 minutes to this match.

 It finished 7-0 though, with Millfield into the final to face John Fisher, however there was the small matter of the plate final to contest first, with RGS High Wycombe and Stamford ready to slug it out for the first piece of silverware.

In truth it was a messy game, with both sides struggling slightly due to their admirable determination to play good rugby despite the treacherous conditions. RGS ran out deserved winners 10-5 with a strong display, while the battle of the two number 8’s was one of the most eye catching exchanges of the weekend with both being the talisman for their sides.

After a long wait John Fisher were finally able to take to the field again having qualified for the Cup final some two hours earlier. Their eagerness showed too as the Cup final kicked off, they became one of the few sides all tournament to stave off the early Millfield juggernaut.

The pattern continued with both sides determined not to concede a single unnecessary inch, as the steered towards half time at 0-0. Fisher had clearly made the decision to try and pepper the diminutive Millfield full back, Whiteley, with high balls but the classy runner dealt with the threat with ease, Millfield meanwhile were desperately trying to use their power runners to soak in Fisher defenders.

As the second half drew on though, and murmurs of a 0-0 final score began to spread around the ground,  Millfield fly half, Callum Sheedy, took matters into his own hands, receiving an awkward ball on the Fisher 10 metre line he looked up and sent the ball sailing over with a perfect drop goal to give Millfield a 3-0 lead.

As always in St Joseph’s Festival format, that first score set the tone for the rest of the game, with Fisher increasingly desperate to get over the line, while Millfield, excellently marshalled by John Mallet’s on field eyes and ears, Robbie Tait, were able to probe their way across the field, without the pressure of needing a score.

That probing play paid off with just a few minutes left on the clock as a long move led to a try in the far corner as they bundled what looked like the slender frame of player of the tournament, Sam Denham, over in the corner.

Sheedy missed the conversion, but in truth that try meant the game was up, as at 8-0 it left Fisher needing two scores to win. Millfield were deserved champions though, they played the best rugby in the tournament and showed their qualities in both defence and attack by beating their two toughest opponents, Dulwich and John Fisher, in succession.

Roll on next year!

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