Shiplake College confirmed their pre season form with an excellent 33-7 victory over Windsor Boysâ€™ School on Wednesday afternoon.
Tournament victory at the South Coast Kings Tournament, which included a victory over perennial schoolboy heavyweights Bryanston, meant that Shiplake were on the receiving end of much positive comment ahead of this game, despite the fact that their star of 2012, Tom Howe, has now finished his time at the school.
Howe may be gone however his younger brother Toby now captains the side and forms part of a midfield triumvirate including inside centre Fili Savou and outside centre William Janes that really typifies the balance of this Shiplake side.
With Howe pulling the strings, Janes offering himself at all times for the hard line, and Savou offering that uniquely Pacific Island skill of awesome physicality matched with deft handling, Shiplakeâ€™s midfield is a difficult one to control.
So it proved yesterday, after a scrappy opening period during which Windsor put a heavy focus on the breakdown and on forcing Shiplake to infringe, a tactic that they would employ to a relative degree of success throughout the game, Shiplake managed to force their way over on the left hand touchline via flanker Tom Harman.
Howe missed a tough conversion but the feeling was that this could be the beginning of the opening of the floodgates. However a switched restart from Windsor saw them score a converted try immediately to give them a 7-5 lead.
It was a delightful try to watch, finished off by their pacey left winger following a delicate grubber through from the fly half. It was a typically excellent piece of skill form the Berkshire sides fly half, who was by far and away the most talented player in the green of Windsor Boysâ€™, though at times it seemed as if he was all too aware of this a felt forced into trying the sublime when sometimes the simple would have sufficed.
His play and his forwards ability to force Shiplake into conceding penalties were the main threats to Shiplakeâ€™s advances though as the home side began to exert total dominance of the set piece.
It seemed only a matter of time before that dominance turned itself into points though, and sure enough a few minutes later Howe pounced on a loose piece of possession in the Windsor 22 to stroll over for a try, which he converted to make it 12-7.
That try provided the catalyst that the first had been expected to with Savou in particular causing the defence problems at every opportunity. It was his powerful running and skillful handling that paved the way for scrum half Jamie Westbrook to score the third Shiplake try.
Savou went on a typically barreling run, straight into the heart of the Windsor defence; looking likely to go he was finally hauled down five metres or so from the line only to release the most beautiful and seemingly impossible offload for Westbrook to stroll in under the posts. It was a sublime moment.
Howe pinged over the conversion with ease to leave Shiplake 19-7 up at the break and in control.
Despite going into the break comfortably though, the second half began much like the first with Windsor piling into the breakdown and causing Shiplake to lose control of their discipline, creating a scrappy opening period.
It seemed inevitable that the increased penalty count would eventually prove costly, and so it did as Shiplakeâ€™s hard working openside, Alex Collis, was sent to the bin.
The much used statistic that a side conceded seven points on average when they are a man down would have been a worrying one for the home coaches as a 19-14 scoreline moving into the final stages would have been far from comfortable.
Their players displayed no sign of any such concerns though, tightening up their game in a bid to minimize the effect of having one less player.
They also upped their workrate at the breakdown; a ploy that was to reap excellent rewards after some brilliant play on the floor saw Westbrook seize on some loose ball to go waltzing in unopposed. It was a fitting reward for their hard work whilst Collis was in the bin, and with him returning as Howe landed the conversion it appeared to signal the end of the game as a contest.
It may have been the end of the game as a contest, however it certainly was not the end of Shiplakeâ€™s attacking intent. Westbrook, who was having an outstanding game, made yet another break â€“ searing towards the try line all the way from the half way line, he unselfishly offloaded only to see the move shut down by some excellent Windsor defence.
That surge into the 22 was to prove the start of a sustained period of Shiplake pressure though, a phase that was to last until the end of the game where with a quick tap penalty just a few metres short of the line, tighthead prop Joshua Davies went crashing over, leaving Howe with a conversion to make the final score 33-7.
The score was probably a fair reflection of the differences between the two sides, though both will feel that there were areas of their game that could have been improved, certainly though it seems as if this was the first of many victories for Shiplake this season.
Man of the Match Jamie Westbrook (Shiplake College)
15. Markus Grun 14. Alex Ward 13. William Janes 12. Fili Savou 11. Nick Burnage 10. Toby Howe (Captain) 9. Jamie Westbrook; 1. Milo Taylor 2. Ruairi Van Raalte 3. Joshua Davies 4. James Rossi-Bull 5. Michael Reynolds 6. Tom Harman 7. Alex Collis 8. James Sloman.
Replacements: 16. Harry Wallace 17. Peter Baker 18. Jake Long 19. Anthony Miarli