Wellington defeat Cranleigh ahead of Wednesday’s showdown

Wellington against Cranleigh was always going to be a top class and brutal fixture, with both sides enjoying sensational seasons so far.

Cranleigh went into this clash having lost only once, against Brighton College, and were unbeaten since the second week of the season. Wellington also only lost the one fixture, that too back in September against early season pace setters Marlborough.

Both sides felt they had a point to prove, with Wellington looking to get a home win to avenge their defeat at Cranleigh last year, while Cranleigh themselves felt they had something to prove, looking to gain the recognition they feel they deserve for the consistency of their results.

From early on in the day it was clear that it was going to be a day of testing conditions, with the wind and rain swirling about London and the surrounding areas, games across the country had been called off but the weather held off just long enough for this one to go ahead.

Unfortunately the weather was not so kind to this reporter though with traffic caused by the conditions meaning I could not arrive until the half time break. Fortunately though Wellington Old Boy and loyal supporter Ollie Williams kept us informed on what seemed like an engrossing first half.

Cranleigh twice scored but each time Wellington swiftly hit back meaning that when I arrived the second half began with Cranleigh leading 12-10.

Immediately it became apparent that the wind was a huge factor in the game, and Wellington now playing with the wind, it seemed likely that a two point lead would simply not be enough in the face of such conditions.

Wellington immediately began to dominate possession and territory and it seemed simply a matter of time before they would break through in the opening exchanges of the second half.

Nobody seemed to have told the Cranleigh back row though. To a man they were magnificent, led by Will Setterfield they were simply outstanding at the breakdown winning penalty after penalty in the face of relentless Wellington pressure.

It helped that there was a Premiership level referee in charge, in the shape of Ashley Rowden, but the Cranleigh defence was exceptional. With a clear plan to fly up at Wellington fly half Charlie Wicks, forcing him inside and then latching onto the ball like limpets, they began to frustrate the home side.

Eventually though the Wellington pressure told as a strong Wellington scrum saw Cranleigh’s scrum half put under pressure, eventually conceding a penalty for holing on. Wellington’s inside centre, Brett Herron, banged over the points and for the first time in the match Wellington had the lead.

The fantastic home support banged their drums ever louder and even threw in some bagpipes in celebration but they were soon cut short as Cranleigh marched straight forward from the kick off to start exerting a little pressure of their own.

Twice they were held up on the Wellington line but the home defence held firm, trusting in each other to make their tackles and rock the attack backwards. Eventually Wellington number 8 Buchan Richardson broke away from his own try line, lifting his teammates before the ball was shipped back to Wicks who boomed away an almighty kick.

Bouncing into touch just ahead of the Cranleigh 22 from a kick on his own 5 metre line it was a clearance to be proud of at any level.

This gave the Wellington crowd and players alike another huge lift as a further spell of continuous Wellington pressure came, all that was lacking were the points to go with it.

It seemed a case of if rather than when as Wellington kept knocking on the door until eventually after some dogged work from the home centres, second row Jake O’Leary bundled his way over to give Wellington an 18-12 lead. Herron missed the conversion from a tough angle, but there was no doubting the way the momentum had swung.

Straight from the restart they came swarming back on the Cranleigh line after yet another booming clearance from Wicks, they fought and fought to get over the line but as before, the Cranleigh back row were simply outstanding in defence.

Again though the pressure eventually told, with Cranleigh yielding a penalty through sheer pressure. Herron stepped up from a tough angle once again but this time it held true to give Wellington a 21-12 advantage, leaving Cranleigh needing more than a converted try with time running low.

In fairness to the visitors though they responded in style, spending the rest of the match camped in the Wellington 22. Twice more they were held up and a further two times bundled into touch with the try line beckoning.

Their openside was playing out of his skin while their 13 was hitting the line with such speed that it seemed a miracle every time this tireless Wellington defence brought him down.

Bring him down they did though, as they did to a man across the pitch, eventually holing out for a deserved but hard fought 21-10 victory in one of the highest quality fixtures of the season.

Both sides now face tough opponents next, with Cranleigh scheduled to play Reeds in a Surrey derby.

It is Wellington though who hold the ace of spades when it comes to fixtures though. They take on Millfield on Wednesday at Wellington in one of the biggest school fixtures of the season.

With both sides expected to have huge amounts of support and plenty of scouts, press and photographers rumoured to be coming it is simply an unmissable game.

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