There are not many schoolboy rugby matches that get the sort of hype that Wellington v Millfield had pre game but then again, there are not many school rugby matches that have such quality both as teams and as players.
As it was, Millfield came away victorious racking up a 26-5 scoreline in the process. In a match of this nature it was a rather hefty score, Wellington will feel though that they should have kept it closer given the possession and territory they enjoyed.
The very top teams at any level of rugby though are built on two very important principals; rock solid defence and being clinical when taking chances. Millfield showed these two qualities in abundance in a deserved win.
The game started surrounded by the most almighty atmosphere, with the prep school rugby festival finishing off on the surrounding pitches and its participants and spectators moving over to watch the big game, plus almost all of Wellington packed into the Monroe stand, it felt as though we were about to witness something special.
Clearly Wellington sensed this too, staying in the dressing room to leave Robbie Tait and his charges out on the pitch while the expectant crowd began to bubble with excitement.
Eventually Wellington emerged to rapturous applause, led by the imposing Buchan Richardson, lining up to receive the kick of from Millfieldâ€™s Tom Whiteley.
Immediately from the kick off the tone for the game was set, with Wellington working through phase after phase to get into the Millfield 22. The away side set about their defence though with relish, make tackle after tackle, with the tight five in particular getting through an enormous amount of work early on.
Eventually the tough defence paid off as the referee awarded Millfield a penalty. Spotting a chance to gain some momentum, Turner took it quickly and swept upfield, releasing Davies who surged into the Wellington 22.
Daviesâ€™ back row companions arrived quickly on the scene to secure fast ball which was shipped out to the majestic Callum Sheedy who beat the first tackler to release Haines to go in under the sticks. Whiteley collected the extras to give Millfield a 7-0 lead.
Just minutes later we were treated to an almost exact repeat. Wellington again were putting pressure on in the Millfield 22, with Tom McClean and Brett Herron in particular making a lot of ground.
Exceptional work on the floor led to a Millfield turnover though and once again Turner surged upfield. As before Davies was once again to hand, trying to drive over beneath the posts. Great tight defence from Jack McClean kept him out but at the next try Delahunty went over to give Whiteley another simple conversion.
Suddenly it was 14-0 and the home side were looking a little shocked. Having seen so much territory and possession they had been ruthlessly punished for allowing it to be turned over.
Millfield by contrast looked very comfortable, Tom Whiteleyâ€™s supreme running kick return game was forcing Wellington in keeping the ball in hand when they otherwise might kick, playing into the Millfield defenceâ€™s hands.Â
Never was Whiteleyâ€™s running game in more evidence than towards the end of the first half, Wick cleared his lines well but as the Millfield full back collected he accelerated to top speed in a blink.
Jinking and weaving his way past the Wellington defence he was finally hauled down in the home 22. Fast ball was as ever delivered by the forward pack as the ball was moved to Sheedy, who himself was in effervescent form, seeing space on the left he moved it on to Will Radford to score in the corner.
Whiteley failed with a tough conversion but Millfield now held what felt like and unassailable 19-0 lead.
There was a chance for one further Millfield attack of the half as Sam Denham exploded down the left touchline, revelling in getting his wish of more ball out wide. Some lovely offloading, a feature of the Millfield game, should have resulted in more but a forward pass saw the referee blow for the half.
Both sides made changes at half time, while Jack McClean came out looking as though half the tape in Berkshire had been applied to his damaged nose, it was a sign of how well he was playing that he came back out at all really.
The game began with more Wellington pressure with the substitute winger, number 16, making a big impact early on.Â Again though Millfield forced a turnover from which Sheedy sent it booming down, deep into the Wellington 22.
It was the first time in the game that Sheedy had kicked long, preferring in the first half to just run, pass and chip to great effect. That long kick confirmed though that he is a man with all the skills, for any conditions. Even the Wellington fans were sufficiently impressed to applaud.
Play resumed in the Wellington 22, with Millfield controlling possession a well timed interception though from the substitute winger again saw him racing away towards the Millfield line. Hauled down in the 22, Wellington recycled well and moved the ball wide to the right hand side for Trowbridge to go steaming over.
Herron missed the conversion, leaving the score at 5-19, but that wasnâ€™t important, what counted was the fact that Wellington had done what they needed, scored first and changed the momentum.
It appeared though to only spur Millfield on as them then went through their most sustained period of possession yet. The McCleanâ€™s and Richardson defended admirably, while Wick also showed show excellent defensive skills, but it felt like a matter of time before the wall broke.
Break it did as eventually Sheedy waltzed and wriggled his way over under the posts leaving Whiteley an easy conversion to make it 26-5.
Wellington showed great spirit and resolve after that though, camping inside the Millfield 22 for much of the rest of the game. Wily as ever though, Millfield understood that they had a strong lead and that Wellington had to go for tries.
Tait, being the dogged number 7 that he is, was happy to concede penalties, safe in the knowledge that the Millfield lineout could deal with the Wellington threat.
All in all it was a strong performance from both sides. Wellington showed great spirit and quality to remain in the game, and indeed controlled much of the possession and territory though.
Millfield though were comfortably the better side, happy to defend, safe in the knowledge that they would make their tackles and turnover ball. When they did turn it over their ability to turn possession into points was simply outstanding, while in Whiteley and Sheedy they had the most eye-catching movers of the game.
It was in the forwards though that the hard work was done, perhaps most inspirationally so from captain Robbie Tait, whose battle with opposite man Jack McClean was a pleasure to watch. McClean was certainly Wellingtonâ€™s best performer.
It was Tom Ellis though who perhaps impressed the most in the forwards. His work rate was phenomenal, his carrying, defence and support play were that of a loose forward rather than a second row. Indeed at a school with less talent than his, he could be a standout performer at 6 too.
If we might be so bold as to make a suggestion to Millfieldâ€™s Head Coach John Mallett, it would be this: Perhaps itâ€™s time for Whiteley and Haines to have their names in Blue on the team sheet tooâ€¦
15. Haynes, 14. Trowbridge, 13. McClean 12. Herron, 11. Ware, 10. Wicks, 9. Leith; 1. Asiko, 2. Butler, 3. Aderniran-Olule, 4. O’Leary, 5. Corner, 6. Hutchinson, 7. McClean, 8. Richardson (Captain).
15. Whiteley, 14. McConnell, 13. Delahunty, 12. Cundy, 11. Denham, 10. Sheedy, 9. Turner; 1. Barron, 2. Haines, 3. Owlett, 4. Richardson, 5. T.Ellis, 6. W.Radford, 7. Tait (Captain), 8. Davies.
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