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Sensational finish sees Hampton reach the Quarter Finals

A sensational final minute score saw Hampton overcome Whitgift 12-10 to earn a place in the Daily Mail Cup quarter finals for the first time in the history of the school.

Centre Alex Tavener went barreling over from close range to level the scores at 10-10 under the shining lights of Esher RFC, leaving fly half Tom McGwire with the unenviable task of taking the conversion to give his side the win.

It was a fitting end to what had been one of the most intense and engaging games of the season, with both sides stepping up their performances to a quite incredible level.

Players defied the sub zero temperatures and rock hard pitch right from the word go, with Hampton absolutely flying out of the blocks. McGwire broke clear inside of a minute as his side pressed for an early score.

They were not to be denied for long as fullback Joe Battle, surged in over the right corner following some slick back play. McGwire missed the conversion but the tone had been set; Hampton were here to attack and they had the skill to do so from anywhere.

Whitgift, the pre match favourites, looked almost shell-shocked by this fast paced Hampton start. Their first spell of possession was notable more for the sheer aggression and intensity of the Hampton defence than anything else, with a huge roar accompanying every Hampton tackle.

It is not for nothing though that Whitgift are so well talked of, and centre George Smith demonstrated just why with a simply sensational try to level the scores.

From deep inside his own half he collected the ball, looking for all the world like a man searching to set up the next phase of play, suddenly with an arching burst of acceleration he streaked past a pair of defenders before showing Battle that he was not the only man on the pitch with pace to burn.

Smith raced away to touch down under the posts to a mixture of jubilation and disbelief all around, giving George Jones a simple conversion to give Whitgift a 7-5 lead.

Out of nothing the balance of the game had been shifted and it turned into a ferocious battle of the breakdown, with bone shuddering tackling the order of the day.

From one such breakdown contest Whitgift were awarded a penalty, which Jones ably knocked over to give Whitgift a 10-5 lead as the game moved towards half time.

Half time came, but with neither side, nor the referee keen to hang about too long in the cold, we were underway quickly and straight back into the pattern of the first half.

Again Hampton had the lions share of possession, with their outside backs looking threatening whenever they got the ball. Whitgift were sensational in defence though and refused to yield an inch of territory. Callum Buckler was particularly impressive, making an unbelievable number of tackles.

The Whitgift back row of Taggart, Opedo and Cheeseman were a growing influence on the game, with Opedo in particular playing a major role with some bullocking ball carrying.

Their influence suffered a dent though when Taggart was sent to the bin midway through the half. With the game becoming perpetuated by stoppages for cramp though, as the cold really began to ravage players from both sides, it seemed as though opportunities for Hampton to get that elusive score were running out.

They battered and battered away at the Whitgift defence but the men in blue were holding firm, pinning Hampton inside their own half.

Belief is what winning rugby is all about though and Hampton’s refusal to stop believing was rewarded as Tavener, who had been a rock in defence and a threat in attack all day, released his outside men on the edge of his own 22.

They swept down the length of the field, the crowd rising to their feet as the ball came to Burke on the left wing. Burke grubbered the ball beyond the defence leaving it as a foot race between him and Whitgift’s Smith, the winner taking the game it seemed.

It was Smith who got their first and battered the ball out of play much to the relief of the Whitgift support. A jubilant cheer went round the ground, before a sudden hush, the referee and his touch judge had come together – hope for Hampton.

A long conversation ensued, only serving to add to the tension, how we all craved a ref link and a TMO! After what seemed an eternity though, they reached a conclusion, Smith was adjudged to have deliberately handled the ball into touch and was sin binned.

It was from the resulting play that Tavener finished what he started and crossed the line for the try that will stay with him for many years to come. The celebrations began butMcGwire still had to convert to give Hampton the lead.

It may have been in front of the posts but my word, it was a pressure kick if ever there was one. With fog descending and an early charge from the Whitgift players the tension was too much for some to even watch.

McGwire though is made of stern stuff and he knocked it over with the air of a man who never believed he would do anything but nail it. All that remained was for Hampton to play out the final minutes and secure one of the greatest wins of their history.

Speaking on the school’s website, Hampton’s Head Coach, Zoran Higgins said:

“At U18 level this is the first time that we have got beyond the last 16, having suffered agonisingly close last minute defeats in each of the three previous years. The match between Hampton and Whitgift was worthy of a final at Twickenham and it is a shame that the two schools had to meet so early on in the competition.”

“Both teams showed real quality and intensity at a level that belies their years. Commiserations to Whitgift who were a credit to their school and coaches, showing real spirit and fight up front.  Well done to the Hampton 1st XV and a big thank you to our supporters. We can’t wait to take on the next challenge!”

His sentiment could not be more accurate; this was a game worthy of any stage, a testament to the quality and passion of schoolboy rugby.

Final Score: Hampton 12-10 Whitgift

Whitgift:

1.Jonathan McMillan, 2.Callum Buckler, 3.Elliot Mack, 4.Robert King, 5.Lorcan Dow (Captain), 6.Frankie Taggart, 7.Nathaniel Opedo, 8.Henry Cheeseman;  9.Jack Lloyd, 10.George Jones, 11.Luca Petrozzi, 12.Fraser Mosley, 13.George Smith, 14.Luke Baker, 15.Will Page.

Replacements: 16.James Burnett, 17.Ben Ledger, 18.Thomas Andrews, 19.Joe Hughes, 20.Lartey Laryea, 21.Matthew Clark, 22.Greg Dann.

Hampton:

1. Szczotka, 2. Griffith-Jones, 3. Lundberg, A (Captain), 4. Painter, 5. Hoyle, 6. Fulton, 7. Barry, 8. Browne;  9. Takenaka, 10. MccGwire (vc), 11. Burke, 12. Tavener, 13. Alboni, 14. Hall, 15. Battle, J.

Replacements: 16. Penn, 17. Woollatt, 18. Van der Merwe, 19. Hewitt, 20. King, 21. Tunnacliffe, 22. Tyler, E.

By Angus Savage

For photo’s of the game please head to our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby

The draw for the quarter finals of the Daily Mail Cup is scheduled to be made on Monday.

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