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Independent School Lambs National Manager Alex Laybourne reports on their successful tour of Ireland this Easter.

This Easter the Independent Schools National XV completed an impressive Grand Slam of Ireland as they faced and beat Leinster Schools, Leinster Clubs, Connacht and Ulster.

It was their first ever tour of Ireland and included a tough schedule of four games in seven days against three of the four provincial sides in Ireland.

The Independent Schools Rugby Football Club known as ‘The Lambs’ was set up in 2006 to provide
representative rugby opportunities for talented young players where they did not exist before.

It culminates in the players playing and touring for the ‘Lambs XV’ more fully known as the English Independent Schools National XV. This initiative provides additional opportunities to play beyond the school playing field, it is aimed to enthuse players and entice them to remain in rugby for life, for the overall benefit of the game.

The tour started with a training session at the impressive facilities of University College Dublin, the players were assessed by the physio, Liz Robson, and went through some basic team play and starter moves as they came together as a complete squad for the first time.

The first two games were back to back on Wednesday and Thursday. Leinster Clubs were the opening opposition on the Wednesday, and Leinster Schools on the Thursday – a tough start to the tour!

On Wednesday the fixture was played at St Mary’s RFC, a great facility and with weather to match. The Lambs came out all guns blazing and were on the scoreboard within two minutes following some good pressure from the kick off, Mike Peak from Kings Taunton opening the scoring.

By the time the clock reached 15 minutes the Lambs were three tries and 21 points ahead. However, Leinster are not the type of team to roll over and after keeping the ball tight they went out wide to get on the scoreboard.

Things then got a bit tougher for the Lambs as Jamie Williams (Kingswood School), fresh onto the pitch, saw yellow for repeated team offences at the breakdown, which then led to a Leinster catch and drive to get a second try on the scoreboard. Just before the break a fourth try gave the Lambs a cushion and they went in 28 – 12 up.

A flood of changes at half time and a chance to regroup allowed the boys to step up the gears, two second half tries a piece from winger George Adams (Bedford School) and full back Charlie Banks (Colfe’s School) and a try from replacement winger Roland Walker (Ampleforth College) put the Lambs in control, eventually running out 59 – 17 victors.

The centre pairing of Josh Gray (The Perse School) and Charlie Greswold (St. Peter’s School, York) were outstanding with Greswold named man of the match.

Twenty-four hours later the boys were on the pitch again, with 29 players touring the side was freshened up for what was going to be a huge battle against a big and well-organised Leinster Schools side.

The game started and was attritional at the breakdown, where Leinster were outstanding, but with both teams playing attacking, running rugby. Eventually tries from Blundell’s hooker Andrew Hamilton and Ampleforth’s Roland Walker put the Lambs 10 – 0 up after 25 minutes.

Once again however, Leinster were not going to roll over, a try and a penalty took the score at half time to 10-8, game on!

Once again the team was freshened up at half time, Mike Peek and Tom Yeulet (Pangbourne College) adding go forward in the pack and Angus Hardy (Berkhamsted School) changing the dynamic at scrum half.

An early penalty to Leinster put them ahead for the first time in the game and the score remained 10-11 for the majority of the second half.

With 5 minutes to go Leinster were awarded a penalty following persistent pressure in the Lambs half. The kick was missed and from there the Lambs players suddenly changed the pace of the game, good breaks from Charlie Banks, Liam Fitt (Bedford School) and George Adams moved us into scoring territory for the first time in the second half.

A forward pass stopped a sure fire game winning try before Leinster ended up with a lineout on their 5 metre line, last play of the game. A great lineout effort saw Captain Iain Billington (Berkhamsted School) steal ball and give the Lambs one last chance – still playing wide attacking rugby the boys ended up right on the touchline, stopped by a last ditch tackle – then a penalty was awarded, only the fourth of the game in favour of the Lambs, still last play of the game!

The team opted to go for goal, out wide with a cross field win, a very difficult kick which Harrow’s Freddie Chalmers seemed to take his full minute with!

A well struck kick won the game for the Lambs 13 – 11. Two from two in part one of the tour against two good sides – Captain Iain Billington was awarded man of the match of this occasion.

After a couple of days rest, including ice-baths kindly prepared by physio Liz Robson and Tour Manager Rob Robson, the Lambs were ready to face Connacht U18s in the third of their four tour. As always the philosophy was to play fast, open, attacking rugby – and they did not disappoint.

Andrew Hamilton (Blundell’s) opened the scoring for the second game running before a brace from Bedford winger George Adams put the Lambs in control.

Adams first came from a superbly worked back row move that released him in plenty of space to score, and the second was arguably the try of the Lambs season so far as quick offloading and wide play from the Lambs 22 got the crowd on their feet.

A well worked fourth try, finished by Reigate Grammar School centre Will Bennett took the half time score to 22 – 0, with just the one conversion.

The second half started with a bang, George Adams completing a hat trick as replacement scrum half Angus Hardy (Berkhamsted) spotted the smallest of gaps on the blindside.

The game then broke up as Connacht fought back and began to vary their playing style and put the Lambs into defence mode, the next 10 minutes were a stalemate before some great individual work by David Elliott (Durham School) saw a breakaway try to take the score to 36 – 0.

Connacht then caught the Lambs in phase play as miscommunication led to huge gaps in the defence and their winger sliced through to put 7 points on the board.

The Lambs had to regroup under the posts to regain control, and they certainly did as the tight five showed just how to play fast and free as they demonstrated good offload play, lines of running and also a turn of pace to go from half way to under the posts, Josh Pieterse (St. Columbas College) finishing the move off.

The final play of the game then saw Kit Goodfellow (Rugby School) finish off the scoring with a good try down the left wing, Elliot Croft (Brentwood School) brought up the 50 points with the conversion. Final score 52 – 7.

Some great set piece by the Lambs gave them a good platform to put in an excellent performance and record their third win of the Tour. Jamie Williams (Kingswood) and Will Martin (Sherbourne School) were awarded Men of Match.

The final leg of the tour was against Ulster, where The Independent Schools National XV wrapped up an impressive grand slam of Ireland as George Adams (Bedford) and Miles Lloyd (Sedbergh) completed a second half comeback from 0 -13 down to win 20 – 13 against a strong and well drilled Ulster team.

Playing on an excellent wide and open pitch, and in glorious conditions, the setting was there for the Lambs to stick to their philosophy of playing fast and free – and the boys duly obliged. Some great play, often instigated by Man of the Match Elliot Croft (Brentwood School) at fly half, put Ulster under pressure.

However with a slight wind and a strong back row and 10, Ulster squeezed penalties, gaining territory and putting six points on the board early on. On the half hour mark Ulster scored a well worked try on the left wing, taking the score to 0 – 13.

Under the posts the talisman and captain Iain Billington rallied the troops and from the kick off, which was regained, Elliot Croft opened up some space for Charlie Greswold who scored out wide to take the half time score to 5 – 13.

Two changes in the forwards freshened the look for the second half. This put Ulster under pressure and eventually led to a yellow card to Ulster’s tighthead prop. Kicked to the corner, the forwards worked a catch and drive, finished by Elliott Roofe (Colfe’s) to take the score to 10 – 13.

Now with the momentum the Lambs played confidently and eventually the tour’s top try scorer, and proud owner of try of the season from the Connacht game, George Adams (Bedford) put the Lambs in front after great work by Will Martin and Mike Peak gaining hard yards and keeping the ball alive to take the score to 15 – 13 after an hour.

The Lambs now had control of the game and were playing some ambitious rugby to keep the crowd entertained. This style broke up the excellent Ulster defense and allowed Miles Lloyd to round off the game with a score around the fringes. Final score 20 – 13.  Man of the Match was awarded to Elliott Croft (Brentwood) on this occasion.

It was an outstanding tour with four great results, showing off some brilliant young players who came together superbly to play a brand of rugby people wanted to watch and that they want to play. The players should be commended for their attitude on and of the pitch as they showed what playing total rugby can achieve and acted as great ambassadors for their schools and the Independent Schools National XV.

End of season awards were as follows: 

Player of the season – Josh Pieterse (St Columbas)

Player of the tour – Jamie Williams (Kingswood School)

Back of the season – Charlie Banks (Colfe’s School)

Forward of the season – Mike Peak (Kings Taunton)

By Alex Laybourne (Lambs National XV Manager)

The Independent Schools National XV will be touring Zimbabwe next year, returning to the scene of their first trip three years ago. Fixtures against Mbare Academy, Harare Lions, The Goshawks, and Zimbabwe Presidents XVhave already been penciled in.

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