Northampton School for Boys are into their first ever Under 18 Daily Mail Cup Final after mounting a stunning comeback against Warwick School to go through to Twickenham with a 13-10 win.
Much like the first semi final, this was a game changed in large part thanks to a tactical change, with Northampton fly half Conor Bullivant opting to run the ball rather than kick it after a lack of useful possession in the first half and early second half cost them dear.
A Joshua Hickman penalty gave Warwick a 3-0 half time lead before an Andrew Rusher try, which Hickman converted, put them 10-0 clear with half an hour to go. Two Bullivant penalties and a converted Ollie Hartfield try were enough to give Northampton School for Boys a stunning win though.
The first half was a scrappy affair, dominated by penalties, with Warwick collecting a particularly hefty proportion despite dominating much of the opening 35 minutes.
Indeed such was the penalty count that it seemed almost ludicrous that Warwick should be in the ascendency, however such was the brilliance of their lineout that almost every time Northampton went to touch from a penalty, Warwick came away with the ball.
When Northampton did secure possession, the Warwick defence was so hungry and fast that Bullivant was forced to put boot to ball.
The Northampton defence was magnificent though with the back row and the midfield working in tandem brilliantly. Their only real slip came on the 28th minute when they gave away a penalty, which Hickman duly converted for Warwick to give them a 3-0 lead that carried them through to the break.
The stand out players throughout Warwickâ€™s dominant period were without question their number 8 Gerard Rhodes, who carried and tackled to an almost superhuman extent, and scrum half Andrew Rusher, who was a constant thorn in the Northampton side at the fringes.
As the second half began it was Rusher again who was the Warwick spark, seizing on a loose Northampton pass to go darting in unchallenged under the posts, Hickman converted to make it 10-0, and even though there was still half an hour to go, Northampton School for Boys looked down and out the game, it seemed, was about to pass them by.
Slowly though, Northampton began to ease their way into the game, aided it has to be said by a Warwick penalty count that was showing no signs of easing up.
On 48 minutes Bullivant nudged of a penalty to make it 10-3 and suddenly there was a change in atmosphere and attitude in the Northampton ranks, Bullivant began to run the ball more, looking to bring in the likes of Jack Spittle and Ned Buckler.
Northampton had, somewhat surprisingly, only used their ace in the pack a few times all game, Rotimi Segun their England Age Group inside centre. He had had a few barnstorming runs, but had yet to be given the type of possession off which he thrives.
That changed on the hour mark though as Bullivant, again showing his expressive side, went ghosting past a tackler in the Warwick 22 before throwing a sublime offload to Segun.
Segun drew in the remaining Warwick defenders before deftly and superbly oflloading to Hartfield who, as any quality number seven should be, was on hand to dot down to the right of the uprights.
Bullivant slotted the extras with ease and almost from nowhere Northampton were now level at 10-10. Where once they had looked down and out, now it was Warwickâ€™s turn to look stunned, it was hard to believe that having gone 10-0 up and been in the ascendency that they could possibly have let that slip.
Now Northampton began to bring Segun into the attack more, realising that with his power and ability to suck defenders in, they might just get a chance to win the game. With Segun and others keeping Warwick on the back foot as they edged deeper and deeper into their own half, it seemed almost inevitable that a penalty would come at some point, and with five minutes on the clock it duly did.
Standing just outside the 22, Bullivant lined it up, and with nerves of steel he banged it over to give his Northampton side a 13-10 lead with just a few minutes left to play.
Warwick tried to mount some sort of meaningful attack, knowing that a try would surely win it but such was the aggression of the Northampton defence, Rusher was forced to try a dink over the top but Buckler collected for Northampton.
All that was left was for Connor, Oâ€™Rourke and company in the Northampton pack to pick and go as they tried to wind the clock down. With 80 minutes on the clock Bullivant hoofed the ball into the crowd to give Northampton School for Boys a famous victory, and with it a place in the Under 18 Daily Mail Cup Final at Twickenham on the 23rd March.
Where there is joy there is also despair though, and for Warwick, who had brought along an absolute army of fantastic fans, this was the deepest despair of all, a game they could have won and oh so nearly did. As the coach said before the game though, even to be here today was a superb achievement.
For Northampton School for Boys though, jubilation, this school ahs produced the likes of Courtney Lawes and Steve Thompson, but neither has been to Twickenham with their school, the 2012/13 vintage will be though, and in such dramatic and glorious circumstances.
If they were not at the their best to the first three quarters of the game, they were simply unstoppable in the final quarter, there is almost nobody that could have lived with the power, control and creativity on the ball that they showed in the closing stages of that game.
Final Score: Warwick 10-13 Northampton School for Boys
Penalty â€“ Hickman 28
Try â€“ Rusher 39
Conversion â€“ Hickman 39
Northampton School for Boys
Penalties â€“ Bullivant 48, 65
Try – Â Hartfield 61
Conversion â€“ Bullivant 61
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.
Photos of the game are available on our Facebook Page