Felsted and Yarm both booked their places in the Under 18 Daily Mail Vase final at Twickenham on the 23rd March with two very contrasting styles of semi final victories yesterday.
In the first game Felsted raced away to a 31-3 lead before a spirited last 20 minutes saw St Ambrose College score 24 unanswered points to leave the final score at 31-27 with Felsted glad to hear the final whistle.
Yarmâ€™s semi final against Plymouth College was also a very close much but in a completely opposing style. It was a tight and cagey affair with defences dominating; Yarm led 3-0 at the break before an onset of Plymouth power in the second half took them to a 5-3 lead.
Yarm took advantage of a late Plymouth yellow card to send Zach Kibirige over though and held on despite a late Plymouth onslaught to win a gripping encounter 8-5.
Despite the fact that Felsted ended up building such an imposing lead, St Ambrose actually had the better of the opening exchanges of the match, controlling much of the first fifteen minutes and taking a 3-0 lead after twelve though a penalty from blindside flanker Sam Nicholls, who seemed to be the main man for St Ambrose.
Only a combination of poor composure on the ball and excellent Felsted defence was keeping St Ambrose out before Felstedâ€™s fly half, Max Malins, scored a gem of a try from absolutely nowhere.
Struggling to mount any sort of sustained attack, Malins simply took off from outside the St Ambrose 22, selling two huge dummies to waltz in under the posts, the try of the day for sure.
He converted his own try to give his side a 7-3 lead and it had a galvanising effect on their play, suddenly the intensity and urgency of the Felsted attack increased dramatically, while the power from their forwards also stepped up.
They displayed this power brilliantly just a few moments later through an excellent pushover try from second row James Seager, William Malins this time took the conversion and successfully made it 14-3.
St Ambrose still maintained a threat though; with scrum half Matthew Beasley in particular looking very dangerous. However with the half drawing to a close, Max Malins once again showed his class, this time through a lovely crossfield kick for Joshua Hunter-Jordan to go over in the right hand corner, the conversion was pushed wide but it gave Felsted a 19-3 half time lead.
Felstedâ€™s dominance had come from nowhere but it had been all pervading, their work at the breakdown had been superb while their urgency and power in attack had been impressive. Wherever it had come from, it remained at the start of the second half as they continued where they left off.
Ten minutes in Seagun again went crashing over, this time after great work from James Hiett to turn over the ball. The conversion was missed but in no time Felsted were back on the attack again, with St Ambrose looking down and out.
A further try, this time from centre Ben Latham, looked to have given Felsted a virtually unassailable lead, particularly after William Malins banged over the conversion.
It should really have spelled the end for St Ambrose, who in truth had been simply hanging on, however somehow they found a new level, as if the feeling that the game was up had suddenly released in them a freedom to play.
They swept upfield, forcing a penalty which they took quickly to the loosehead Ciaran Parker who barrelled over, giving Nicholls a simple conversion to make it 31-10.
Suddenly their runners were running harder and hitting the line from much deeper, rocking the Felsted defence back with each new wave of attack.
Felsted seemed unable to withstand the assault and their penalty count began to skyrocket, it seemed only a matter of time before the referee stepped things up and with 13 minutes to go he did, sending the two try hero James Seagun to the bin.
St Ambrose looked determined to make the most of the opportunity and they soon did after an immensely powerful scrum and a series of intense burst through the middle released George Backhouse to carve his way through the remaining defenders.
Nicholls missed the conversion but the momentum was all of a sudden completely in St Ambroseâ€™s favour, with Felsted seemingly unable to counter the onslaught.
Another short range try, this time from substitute Mark Carr saw St Ambrose reduce the deficit to just 11 points with just over five minutes left to play, still with a man advantage.
Straight from the kick off they were again putting pressure on the Felsted defence, sending Backhouse charging through again. They sustained the pressure but Felsted did well to keep them out, counting down the clock.
Eventually though, through a series of heavy forward drives, St Ambrose barged over again, though the identity of the scorer was hidden from view to this reporter, Nicholls slotted the conversion but unfortunately for St Ambrose time was up, their comeback had just come too late.
If that game was a game of excitement through tries, the second was a game of excitement through the sheer intensity and drama of the whole occasion. Right from the kick off it was clear that it was going to be a tight and cagey affair, dominated by the play in and around the ruck, with every inch hard fought for.
Plymouth were probably just about the better of the two sides in the opening exchanges, their fly half Ed Neeves, was guiding them around the pitch like Ronan Oâ€™Gara in his pomp, however two missed penalty chances cost them a chance of the lead.
The Yarm defence was magnificent though and they kept repelling the Plymouth attack, forcing them to try different strategies. On the rare occasions when the Yarm backs got the ball they looked incredibly threatening though, with Zach Kibirige looking particularly menacing.
It was on one such foray that they forced their way into the Plymouth College 22 for the first time earning a penalty which Will Guthrie slotted to give them a 3-0 lead that they carried through to the break.
Plymouth again were the more dominant side in the second half though, although by now it was clear that dominance of possession was not the same as dominance of the game, which was definitely on an even keel.
There was an obvious increase in the dynamism of their play, with Ed Neeves at fly half still having a majestic game, Jacob Kingscottâ€™s carrying was also impressive.
Yarmâ€™s defence was still outstanding though, and as in the first half, the sense remained that if they could give their backs some space, they really had the ability to cause some serious problems.
Plymouthâ€™s forward play had to pay dividends at some pointthough and in the 46th minute it did, with a huge scrum giving captain Tom Jordan the space to release Oliver Clenaghan to score. Neeves missed a tough conversion but Plymouth still had a 5-3 lead.
Yarm remained in the hunt though and after some toing and froing, a huge break from Kibirige gave them an opportunity to sustain some pressure in the Plymouthâ€™s 22.
Plymouthâ€™s defence was strong though, however an over enthusiastic tackle from Oliver Demaine saw him receive a yellow with just over ten minutes to go. Yarm opted for the scrum, and with a man extra, they worked the ball over for Kibirige to charge over.
A missed conversion left them with just a three-point lead at 8-5 though and immediately Plymouth were back on the attack, camping on the Yarm line. Yarm had shown all game though that their defence is as good as any out there though, and they showed it again, twice holding up Plymouth over the line before eventually forcing a turnover and the end of the game.
It was a game neither side deserved to lose, both defended so admirably and there will be some sore bodies tomorrow. It contributed brilliantly to what was an excellent day of rugby, with Yarm and Felsted now poised to meet each other at Twickenham in the final on the 23rd March.
Felsted v St Ambrose – Teams & Scorers:
Tries â€“ M. Malins 15, Seager 21,44, Hunter-Jordan 34, Latham 48
Conversions â€“ M. Malins 17, W. Malins 21,48
Yellow â€“ Seager 57
1. Harry Brooker 2. Hugo Chaplin 3. Will Brown 4. James Seager 5. Grant Polkinghorne 6. James Halfhide 7. James Hiett 8. Chalie Kingham 9. Cy Weaver 10. Max Malins 11. Josh Hunter-Jordan 12. Harry Kean 13. Ben Latham 14. Charlie Wood Â 15. Will Malins.
Replacements: 16. Tom Lee 17. Ben Warner 18.Ben Thompson 19. Miles Singleton 20. Ollie Williams 21. Will Jackson 22. Callum Macdonald.
St Ambrose College:
Tries â€“ Parker 51, Backhouse 59, Carr 64, Unknown 70.
Conversions â€“ Nicholls 51,70
Penalty â€“ Nichools 12
1. Ciaran Parker 2. Liam Lyons 3. Conor Whyley 4. Tom Dixon 5. Pat Ingram 6. Sam Nicholls 7. James Shepherd 8. Alex Eaton 9. Matt Beasley 10. Jacob Riley 11. George Backhouse 12. Matt Dearden 13. Harry Callghan 14. Michael carr 15. James Campion.
Replacements: 16. Michael Machuire 17. Charles Crossley 18. Henry Hall 19. Mark Carr 20. Jack Gallimore 21. Conor Ryan 22. Joseph Burns.
Plymouth College v Yarm – Teams and Scorers:
Try â€“ Clenaghan 46
Yellow â€“ Demaine 57
1. Emil Agobiani 2. Seb Slade 3. Jason Van Der Schouw 4. Oliver Demaine 5. Paul Hamber 6. Billy Patching 7. Dom Day 8. Jacob Kingscott 9. Tom Jordan (c) 10. Ed Neeves 11.Owen Jackson 12. Oliver Clenaghan 13. Luke Dickinson 14. George Haslam 15. Callum Cload.
Replacements: 16. Ollie Foster 17. Peter Sumner 18. Henry Loxdale 19. George Hope 20. Dom Mulberry 21. Angus Joce 22. Oliver Westwell.
Try â€“ Kibirige 61
Penalty â€“ Guthrie 24
1. James Fox 2. Alex Oâ€™Brien 3. Simon Eastham 4. Adam Henderson 5. John Collantine 6. Tom Lawson 7. John Teague 8. Tom Mavin 9. Josh Jones 10. Will Guthrie 11. Ashay Peddada 12. Zach Kibirge 13. Fezan Mughal 14. Fola Ajekigbe 15. Scott Melville.
Replacements: 16. Ayoosh Chaudhury 17. Alex Nargol 18. Josh Woodward 19. Rob Duggleby 20. Adam Edmondson 21. Connor Hartigan 22. Tamer Fuat.