Dulwich College secured their place in the Under 18 Daily Mail Cup final today, and with it the chance to become schoolboy greats by winning it twice in succession, as they defeated Hampton School 11-5 despite being down to 13 men at one stage.
A first half try from Ali Neden, coupled with a Dom Fraser penalty, gave Dulwich an 8-0 lead at half time before Fraser nailed a second half penalty to gain what were to prove the final points, following a try from Hamptonâ€™s captain Alex Lundberg early in the half.
If ever the clichÃ© â€˜a game of two halvesâ€™ was appropriate though, it was for this game, Dulwich utterly dominated the opening 35 minutes before an almost total reversal of fortunes for the second 35, it was telling though that Dulwich had been in this situation before, for their composure in the second half was exceptional despite the pressure.
Dulwich began the game looking to take the game to Hampton, kicking penalties to the corner rather than going for 50/50 shots at goal in the hope that any early rustiness might yield a try.
Hampton stood firm though and the championsâ€™ tactics soon changed to their usual no nonsense forwards approach and never saying no to the possibility of points.
Hamptonâ€™s scrum and lineout were put under all manner of pressure, and with their own ball proving such a challenge to win, it was inevitable that on the rare occasions that it did come through to him, fly half Tom MccGwire was forced to kick it away, such was the pressure.
Neden, Fraser and Parsons were lapping that up for Dulwich, and relishing the chance to put the ball back into Hampton territory. The confidence of the players was obvious and soon the penalties began to crop up, from which Fraser put Dulwich 3-0 up in the 18th minute.
Hampton were nothing if not dogged in defence though, with Niall Barry particularly impressing at seven, indeed against any other defence under that kind of pressure you would have expected Dulwich to score before they did.
When it did come though it was a gem of a try, it began with Dom Wroe-Wright taking a lineout at the tail (such was their confidence at the lineout by now, this had become the stock ball) before Dulwich sent in their big ball carriers to take it into the 22.
Eventually the ball was swept along the backline for full back Ali Neden to go diving over in the left hand corner, much to the delight of the Dulwich support. Fraser missed the conversion but such was the Dulwich ascendency at this point that it hardly seemed important.
Hampton managed to string some possession together just before half time and through that pressure they secured a penalty, and crucially a yellow card for Dulwichâ€™s hooker, Billy Mostyn. MccGwire could not quite land it, but you felt it offered Hampton a glimmer of hope.
It was a rather muted atmosphere at half time, most felt that while Dulwich had dominated, 8-0 actually did not seem like a particularly insurmountable lead, though the assumption was that Dulwich would come out and start to build immediately.
However it was Hampton who came out and began to build. Akira Takenaka had moved from scrum half to fly half in the break, charged with firing Hamptonâ€™s talented backline into shape you suspect, and he certainly did that.
Almost immediately the Hampton backs were running at the Dulwich defence, their centres, Alex Tavener and Kane Alboni probably touched the ball more in the opening five minutes of the second half that in the whole of the first.
The early pressure looked to have paid off as Hampton charged into the Dulwich 22, only for the referee to give a sharp blow of his whistle as Dulwich pinched the ball.
Hampton received the penalty, but more importantly, Dulwichâ€™s Jeremy Reason, who had been having an absolute belter of a game, was sent to the sin bin, leaving Dulwich down to just 13 men.
Hampton were quick to capitalise and kept piling the pressure on, forcing a lineout on the 5 metre line from which their inspirational captain, Alex Lundberg, went crashing over, causing pandemonium amongst the Hampton crowd.
MccGwire just missed a tough conversion but Hampton were back in the game and very much in the ascendency.
Hampton just kept coming back in wave after wave of attack, with Alex Tavener and Joe Battle particularly impressing, while Niall Barry continued his first half form.
If it were not for the brilliance of Dulwichâ€™s work at the breakdown, Hampton would almost certainly have crossed the line on several more occasions. Dulwichâ€™s captain Dom Wroe-Wright, was simply incomparable in that department, making countless tackles and turnovers when you felt he had no real right even to have managed to get there.
Dulwich did manage to get some work in of their own shortly after Lundbergâ€™s try though, from which Fraser slotted a penalty in typically calm fashion to give them an 11-5 lead.
For the rest of the half though it was simply a case of Hampton hammering away at the Dulwich defence, but it was a defence unwilling to yield anything, and once they were back to 15 men it did feel as though it would take something special to totally crack it.
As the game edged into the final quarter though, Hampton did produce something special as their big inside centre Tavener came waltzing through to charge over the line, he celebrated but the referee was resolute, held up.
Dulwich closed out the final few minutes to win the game 11-5 and seal their place in the final at Twickenham on the 23rd March.
Hampton should be proud in defeat though, very few sides could have kept them out in the second half, and it was a truly magnificent game to watch. In the end though it always seemed as though Dulwich had the winning of this game when it came to the crunch and they were the deserving winners of a pulsating encounter.
Final Score: Dulwich College 11-5 Hampton School
Try – Neden 24
Penalties â€“ Fraser 18, 46
Yellow â€“ Mostyn 32, Reason 39
Try â€“ Lundberg 41
1. Beno Obano 2. Billy Mostyn 3. Jeremy Reason 4. Hector McKimm 5. Patrick Stuff 6. Felix Maddison 7. Dom Wroe-Wright (c) 8. Josh Ibuanokpe 9. Toby Anthony 10. Ed Parsons 11. Baba Ajisebutu 12. Dom Fraser 13. Joe Charnley 14. Jo Akinlotan 15. Ali Neden.
Replacements: 16. Dom Fernandez 17. Omar Nasir 18. Dami Adebayo 19. Funsho Olalaye 20. George John 21. Ben Henderson 22. Anthony 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.
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