The waiting is nearly over; the Under 18 Daily Mail Cup Semi Finals day is tomorrow, with the U18 Daily Mail Vase semiâ€™s taking place the following day. All four fixtures will take place at Broadstreet RFC, just outside Coventry.
This year has been one of the great years in the Daily Mail Cup, with drama, excitement, and high quality rugby all in abundance since the opening rounds of the tournament.
The four Cup semi finalists themselves have been involved in many of the most exciting games, Hamptonâ€™s last minute last 16 victory over Whitgift was one of the great school matches of the season while in the quarter finals both Warwick and Northampton School for Boys were involved in games that were as dramatic as it gets.
Warwick drew 10-10 with Wilmslow High School, but progressed by virtue of being the away side. As if all that had not been enough, later that day Northampton School for Boys defeated one of the tournament favourites, Kingâ€™s Macclesfield, by a meagre 3-0, to crown a passionate and tense day of rugby.
Cup holders Dulwich College have managed to avoid too much drama, but have been involved in some of the most impressive displays of schoolboy rugby on the circuit. Their first half performance during their quarter final against Sherborne (20-10) was one of the most controlled and tactically aware performances that you will see at this level, and booked them a place in this semi final line up:
Under 18 Daily Mail Cup Semi Finals, Saturday 2nd March:
11am Dulwich College v Hampton School
1pm Warwick School v Northampton School for Boys
Dulwich v Hampton
Dulwich won the 2012 Daily Mail Cup with a display of tactical awareness and forward domination from the start of the tournament to the last minute of the final. If anything, that game management and forward power and dominance has increased this year, with the exception of the St Josephâ€™s Festival they have yet to lose a game in the 2012/13 season.
Through Dom Fraser at centre they have a man who now commands the territory on the field, always ensuring that Dulwich play in the right areas, as the sides kicker in last years final, his experience under pressure will be key.
At openside flanker is the Dulwich captain, Dom Wroe-Wright, an inspirational leader for his side but more than that, a tireless workaholic with a â€˜choppingâ€™ tackling style reminiscent of Dan Lydiate.
The two sides have already met each other this season, a 25-14 victory for Dulwich, both coaches have made reference to that game in the build up to the game but only to insist that it has absolutely no bearing on tomorrowâ€™s semi final.
However, it was a game that highlighted exactly what each side needs to do to win this game. Dulwich won, as is so often the case, through the awesome power of their pack, and with Ibuankpe at 8, and Obano, Mostyn and the outstanding Jeremy Reason in the front row tomorrow, that power and destructive force will be there tomorrow.
However Hampton are one of the few sides who have the potential to deal with that, their captain and England Under 18 prop, Alex Lundberg, is a player of vast potential and he has the ability to be just as destructive as his opposition.
His side showed in the latter stages of that Dulwich defeat, and in their 5th Round victory against St Paulâ€™s, that they could front up just as well as anyone else.
What gives Hampton the belief that they can beat the odds in this game though is their back play, which has been simply outstanding at times this season.
At scrum half Akira Takenaka is one of the very best young number nines in the country and is a threat to anyone, from anywhere, while at centre Alex Tavener and Kane Alboni have been simply magnificent.
The intricacy and speed of Hamptonâ€™s back play against Truro School in the quarter final, and particularly against Whitgift in arctic conditions in the last 16, was sublime and they will feel that if they can click tomorrow then if they can gain some parity up front they can win the game.
It may seem simplistic but the story of this game is likely to come down to whether Hampton can get enough ball to get their running game going, or if Dulwich can secure their usual dominance up front to get their tactical and powerful game plan going.
Both sides possess strong, hard, packs and backlines that can destroy any side, so winning that battle up front will be key.
Warwick v Northampton School for Boys
Northampton School for Boys have gone through every single round of this tournament being vastly underestimated by almost everyone, including ourselves, how stupid we all were, a school with a production line that includes the likes of Courtney Lawes should never be underestimated.
Their last three Daily Mail Cup games have seen them beat Kingâ€™s Macclesfield, Kingâ€™s Worcester and Oakham, three of the strongest sides on the circuit. Let us not forget that Kingâ€™s Macclesfield were unbeaten before that dramatic 3-0 defeat to Northampton School for Boys, while the Kingâ€™s Worcester side is the same team that has just been named Fifteen Rugbyâ€™s Team of the Month after destroying the competition on the sevens circuit.
Northampton possess one of the most aggressive and secure defences on the circuit, and in Rotimi Segun, the England U17 centre, they have an absolute gem. His abilities in both attack and defence mark him out as the biggest threat to Warwickâ€™s hopes.
His partner in crime in the midfield is his captain, Jack Spittle, who is a commanding player too.
However, it is in the tight that this game is likely to be one and lost, as so many matches are at the upper levels of the game. Warwickâ€™s tight five have been immense for them so far this season. In conversation earlier in the week Head Coach Mark Nasey was glowing in his praise of them.
Their dominance of the set piece, the lineout in particular, has been one of the features of their game and was a real factor in their quarter final progression. Whilst they may only have drawn the game, few were left in any doubt that on balance Warwick had been the better side, and the feeling in the camp was that they should have been two tries clear and comfortable.
Joe Blake at hooker and Oliver Beeke at six have been the rocks around which much of that tidy work has been done, but it would be remiss to neglect the work of the Warwick backline.
Like Northampton, they have a lovely blend of attacking and defensive ability in their backline, and through captain Miles Dean on the wing they have a real threat.
One thing is for certain though, the days of Northampton School for Boys being underestimated are long gone, Warwickâ€™s Mark Nasey was categorical on the subject: â€œThere is absolutely no chance of us underestimating them.â€
Like the first game, this is going to be a game that is decided first and foremost in the battle up front, with such tight midfield defences the onus is on the attacking sides to put the pressure on up front to get those defensive lines shuffling backwards, whoever manages that will surely be the side booking their spot at Twickenham.
U18 Daily Mail Vase Fixtures, Sunday 3rd March:
11am Felsted School v St Ambrose College
1pm Plymouth College v Yarm School
It is very much North v South in the Vase, and it would be of little surprise to see an all North final at Twickenham on finals day. Yarm are a quality outfit and in Zach Kibirige they have one of the finest young wingers in the country, an England Under 18 and Newcastle Falcons academy flyer.
They will be expecting to beat a Plymouth College outfit that have performed well up to this stage but have yet to face a side of Yarmâ€™s quality.
The first semi final seems a more balanced affair at first glance; both Felsted and St Ambrose have been in decent form this season, though St Ambrose arguably plays on a slightly more difficult circuit and so they may just feel that this gives them a slight edge.
Felsted are a good side though and, as always in cup rugby, dominance up front will give them every chance of a spot at Twickenham.
Under 18 Daily Mail Cup Squads:
1. Obano 2. Mostyn 3. Reason 4. McKimm 5. Stuff 6. Maddison 7. Wroe-Wright (c) 8. Ibuanokpe 9. Anthony 10. Parsons 11. Ajisebutu 12. Fraser 13. Charnley 14. Akinlotan 15. Neden.
Replacements: 16. Fernandez 17. Nasir 18. Adebayo 19. Olalaye 20. John 21. Henderson 22. Murray.
1. Adam Szczotka 2. Alex Griffith-Jones 3. Alex Lundberg (c) 4. Chris Painter 5. Ed Hoyle 6. George Fulton 7. Niall Barry 8. Hugh Browne 9. Akira Takenaka 10. Tom MccGwire 11. Jobie Burke 12. Alex Tavener 13. Kane Alboni 14. Harry Hall 15. Joe Battle.
Replacements: 16. Nick Penn 17. Simon Woollatt 18. Ed Tyler 19. Paul Van Der Merwe 20. Sam Hewitt 21. Chris Mapletoft 22. George Tunnacliffe.
1. Thomas Jones 2. Joe Blake 3. Max Ley 4. Ben Whidborne 5. James Ainsworth 6. Oliver Beeke 7. Harry Philpot 8. Gerard Rhodes 9. Andrew Rusher 10. Henry Stride 11. Devon Berrington 12. Bryn Grantham 13. Carrick Waldron 14. Miles Dean 15. Joshua Hickman.
Replacements: 16. Jamie Shillcock 17. Lawrence Parkin 18. Nicholas Chesher 19. Noah Thorne 20. Edward Hughes 21. James Allen 22. Sam Ackers.
Northampton School for Boys:
1. Ben Ibrahim 2. Aaron Cort 3. Olly Dancer 4. David Oâ€™Rourke 5. Tom Galliano 6. Tom Hammersley 7. Ollie Hartfield 8. Jacob Connor 9. Harry Sanderson 10. Conor Bulivant 11. Julian Fitton- Swan 12. Rotimi Segun 13. Jack Spittle 14. Conor Jeffcoate 15. Ned Buckler.
Replacements: 16. Kurt Jenkins 17. Jacob Martin 18. Will Stanniford 19. Zak Forskitt 20. Cieran Eeles 21. Kieran Isacc 22. Callum Mackay.
The Semi Finals will all be held at Broadstreet RFC, for directions click here.