RGS High Wycombe battle through the elements to overcome Hampton

If you have ever played rugby on the West coast of Scotland then you will be one of the few to have played in conditions like those that RGS High Wycombe and Hampton School played in during their U18 NatWest Cup quarter final.

The game had already been moved to the 4G pitch at Maidhead RFC, with RGS High Wycombe’s pitches being waterlogged but it quickly became apparent that with a howling wind and driving rain, the surface was going to make very little difference to the outcome of the game.

So it was to prove as two first half penalties from RGS High Wycombe’s Wasps Academy fly half, Ben Wood, gave them a 6-0 lead that they were to carry through to the end of the game, securing a semi final place.

It was an intensely fought contest, between two sides who will rightly feel that they are two of the very best in the competition. Separating the two was always going to come down to the finest of margins, and so it proved.

RGS began the game with the wind at their backs, with the rain only a light drizzle, or at least that was how it seemed once they heavy stuff came. They capitalised on this to take their six points and from then on the game became utterly dominated by the elements.

Midway through the half the weather went from unpleasant to wild, the wind was blowing coast to coast down the pitch, with the rain blowing almost exactly horizontally, giving a fairly dramatic display of the strength of the wind, as well as the ferocity of the rain, and indeed the hail.

It was a shame for the game as it robbed us of the chance of seeing Hampton’s electric attacking play against the powerful and astute RGS fifteen, however what it did bring is what many were hoping to see at Murrayfield last Saturday, a competitive and passionate attritional battle.

Going in at half time and with the weather worsening, Hampton would have been feeling confident about their chances of making up that 6 point deficit in the second half, particularly with the weather at their backs now.

Hampton certainly looked confident, they spent the opening fifteen minutes of the half battering away RGS High Wycombe in the home side’s 22. However the one difference that the artificial surface was making to the game was hurting Hampton.

On a grass surface with a heavy wind behind you and in sodden conditions the mantra is to kick the ball in behind the opposition. The wind will carry the ball deep into their territory but the mud a water will hold the ball up once it bounces, meaning that it will not roll dead, and putting the opposition to clear their lines – not to mention the ordeal of trying to catch it.

However on the artificial surface the ball was getting the same in air carry but was then also carrying a huge amount once it bounced. Time and time again Hampton were playing the ‘sensible’ tactic of kicking the ball into RGS territory only for it to roll dead for a scrum back, or in goal for a 22 drop out. One could hardly blame the players, they were not bad kicks by any means, the wind was just taking them beyond what could reasonably have been expected.

That forced Hampton to have to try to run the ball more than they would have liked, particularly in such difficult handling conditions. It was with that switch that the true foundations of RGS High Wycombe’s victory were built, rather than the two penalties on the scoreboard. Time and time again in that mid second half period, Hampton came hammering away at RGS and the home defence simply refused to be knocked even an inch backwards, battering the away runners back with a ferocious and passionate drive.

Looking back though, the game all hung on one key moment. With Hampton putting pressure on in the RGS 22, RGS forced a turnover and the ball soon ended up in Ben Woods’ hands. Deep in his own 22 he realised the wind was too strong so he opted to run, stepping hard of his right before jinking back onto his left he burst out of his own 22 before offloading to Ross Neal, who surged into the Hampton half.

In the end it came to nothing but it was a truly momentum shifting play. From that moment on RGS stood taller and began to control, to the extent that it could be controlled, the possession. Moving from looking vulnerable to looking like most likely side to score.

It also, crucially moved the ball to a relatively safe part of the field, where it was to remain for much of the rest of the game as the wetness and the freezing cold that came with it caused the ball to be spilled regularly by both sides over the last ten or fifteen minutes.

The commitment and physicality was at a level that few others in this competition have achieved, these are two superb sides. That RGS were able to get through that second half without conceding was a huge testament to their strength, not just physically in the tackle and at the breakdown, but also mentally.

By the end of the game the rain was coming in so hard that it was visibly hurting the RGS players to have to face it head on. However they showed the mental toughness to ignore the pain and the cold and to continue to put their bodies on the line, securing a tough but ultimately deserved 6-0 victory.

It is the second year in a row that Hampton have lost in these late knockout stages to the side that many believe are the best in the tournament, and they will be bitterly disappointed not to be in the semi finals.

However RGS deserve their spot thoroughly, and with commitment like they showed today they will believe they can beat anyone that they face in the semi finals, be it Dulwich College, Durham, or Warwick.

Whoever it is though, we are in for some cracking semi finals.

Full Time: RGS High Wycombe 6-0 Hampton

What di you think of the game, and how do you think RGS High Wycombe will fare in the semis? Let us know via the comment box below, or via @FifteenRugbyXV

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