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Preview: Daily Mail Cup Quarter Finals

By this time tomorrow the four semi finalists of the U18 Daily Mail Cup will be known, as this fascinating tournament edges ever nearer to its conclusion.

Hampton School were the first to book their place in the semi finals with an excellent 20-3 away win against Truro School.

With the fixtures nicely spread out, there is a real opportunity for rugby fans the length of the country to take in this excellent schoolboy tournament, with fixtures in London, Northampton and Cheshire.

Perhaps the biggest fixture on the card is holders Dulwich College against Sherborne, who knocked out Bishop Wordsworth and one of the tournament favourites, Marlborough College, in the same week.

Both sides contain a host of star names on the schoolboy scene, with the U18 Premiership littered with talent from either side. Dulwich boast the not insignificant advantage of playing at home, though Sherborne have demonstrated that they are capable of dealing with any challenge thrown at them, with Ed Coulson able to expertly guide his team around the park.

Dulwich are unbeaten this season though (St Joesph’s Festival aside) and if anything they look an even more formidable outfit than last season’s cup winners. Though the absence of the guiding hand of that victory Tommy O’Flaherty could be an issue, but certainly not one they have shown so far.

The battle of the two sets of forwards will be key; Dulwich’s Ibuanokpe, Reason and Obano have been unspeakably destructive this season, though Edwards and Martin are to strangers to the darkest recesses of the art of forward play themselves for Sherborne. The fitness of Dulwich’s captain forager-in-chief, Dom Wroe-Wright could be key.

In Northampton, Northampton School for Boys welcome The King’s School, Macclesfield to town. King’s are unbeaten this season, and having won their last 16 tie against Wirral Grammar School with ease they will be full of confidence.

Northampton prey on that kind of confident attitude though, and have surprised a fair few teams already this season by offering a much sterner test than expected. The danger for them now is that the element of surprise may have gone, people now appreciate how good this side is, and how devastating their attacking play can be, particularly through Rotimi Segun.

 

King’s though are not a team to mess around, the talk going into games is very rarely about them and yet when the final whistle comes the conversation always turns to how good they are. They will not underestimate this Northampton side.

Warwick make the trip to Cheshire to take on Wilmslow High, with both sides surely bursting with confidence. To progress to this stage both had to knock out previously unbeaten sides, Warwick beating Stamford and Wilmslow beating the mighty Durham School.

Calling this game is a near impossible task, but you feel that Wilmslow’s home advantage plus the sheer strength of the opposition defeated previously may stack up. This side were winners of the tournament in their Under 15 year and they have carried that form through to sixth form.

Warwick boasts significant cup pedigree too though having won it in 2007. That vintage are obviously long gone, but that kind of Daily Mail Cup legacy does not wash away quickly, it stays with a school ingrained in its psyche. You only have to look at their results to see that.

U18 Daily Mail Cup Quarter Final predictions:

Dulwich College v Sherborne School – Dulwich are favourites for this game but it is going to take an almighty effort. Sherborne are a talented, well-organised and determined side, but Dulwich are too and they know how to win this tournament. Dulwich by less than 7.

Northampton School for Boys v The King’s School, Macclesfield – For me this is the hardest game of all to call. On paper King’s should win by a couple of scores, but tournaments are not won on paper, they are won by the side with the most heart, passion, and skill on the field. Northampton have come so far, and performed so well, and possess all of those skills mentioned in abundance, but I predict: King’s by no more than one try.

Wilmslow High School v Warwick School – As written above, calling this game is a near impossible task. However, despite the quality at Warwick’s disposal, I feel that having already won at U15 level, this Wilmslow side possess the ability to close out these tight game, they know how to win. I also sense that there is a real determination to achieve an U15/U18 double for this group, and in doing so to have themselves recognised as one of the great school side. Wilmslow by less than 7.

There we have it, our quarter final predictions, unsurprisingly were have guessed that they will all be incredibly close games, but at this level, under this pressure, it would be a genuine surprise to see anything else.

It will be the teams who remain calm in the closing stages who will progress, to use Sir Clive Woodward’s acronym: T-CUP, Think Correctly Under Pressure. Whichever sides do that best will win.

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