In beating Lymm High School in the U18 NatWest Cup quarter finals Dulwich College have kept the dream of an historic third Schools Cup title in succession alive.
The 19-10 defeat of Lymm pits them up against one of Durham School, RGS High Wycombe, or Warwick School in the semi finals at Allianz Park on the 8th March.
Back to back titles in 2012 and 2013 elevated Dulwich College to schoolboy greats, as we wrote at the time, but this would go beyond that. The nature of school 1st XV rugby is that players are generally selected from 6th form, and therefore have just two years available to them in the school 1st XV. To have won back-to-back titles is the maximum achievement for those players; it turned that group into schoolboy greats.
Talk of a third title is premature, the semi final draw is yet to be decided and there is no guarantee of Dulwich even reaching Twickenham, let alone winning there. However it is becoming an ever-increasing possibility.
Should that third title arrive though it will be the ultimate triumph for Sam Howard and his coaching team. Back to back titles are superb, a rare feat that requires careful management and excellent coaching, but it is based on getting a good group of players at the right time.
A third in a row changes that balance, yes, in order to win the title the players must be excellent, as Dulwichâ€™s are (our praise of the likes of Ali Neden, Felix Maddison, and Josh â€˜two medals already in the bagâ€™ Ibuanokpe shows that), but a third title in a row is a story of coaching brilliance. They have lost two year groups worth of Cup winners and yet are still in the mix for another title â€“ that is all about creating a culture of excellence and eking out every possible drop of talent and determination from their charges.
Can they secure that third title in a row? Well, it will not be easy. The other three teams are all very strong, hence their appearance in the semi final draw, Durham shut down Adams Grammar well in their quarter final and have had some good results this season.
Form would suggest that the other three will feel confident against them, however a lack of common opponents with the other three makes any stat on Durham unreliable, and makes them more of an unknown quantity to the other semi finalists.
Warwick are similarly unpredictable as an opponent. Their results are something of a mixed bag, however they have drawn with Millfield and beaten Whitgift this season, and are in the semi finals, clearly they are a dangerous outfit. Perhaps more than that, they are a side capable of raising their levels when required.
Take their last sixteen tie against Stamford, they were down and out but guts, determination, and no little ability took them over the line to progress with the last play of the game. They were semi finalists last year too and that experience makes them doubly dangerous, as will their determination to go one further.
Dulwichâ€™s greatest challenge to a third title in a row though is a side that are also chasing their own historical achievement, RGS High Wycombe.
The RGS 1st XV is made up from two groups of players; the 2011 U15 Schools Cup winners, now in their Upper 6th year, and the 2012 U15 Schools Cup runners up, now in their Lower 6th year.
Adding an U18 Cup victory to that would be an extraordinary achievement. Not since Bradford Grammar School in the competitionâ€™s infancy has a side won the U15 Cup and then gone on to win the U18 Cup, they won the U15 tournament in 1990 and then won the U18 Cup back to back in 1992 and â€™93.
Others have come close, St Benedictâ€™s won the U15s in 2005 and were U18 runners up in 2008, and St Peterâ€™s York did the same in 2002 and 2005. RGS themselves have come close, winning the U15 competition in 1996 and 1997, and sharing it in 1998, however when those sides reached 6th form they came up against that mighty Colstonâ€™s side, who beat their U18s in the final in 1998 and 1999 in amongst their unbelievable six Schools Cups in a row.
RGSâ€™ side are not just history chasers though, they are an excellent side who have beaten the likes of Wellington College and Whitgift, as well as reaching the St Josephâ€™s Festival final, not to mention their quarter final defeat of Hampton.
The history provides an intriguing narrative though; RGS are chasing that outstanding feat, while Dulwich College are chasing the opportunity for that historic third title in a row.
They, along with Bradford Grammar School, Oakham, and Whitgift, are already Cup greats with their back-to-back titles. Those are the only four sides ever to have done that, whatâ€™s more; Dulwich only entered the competition for the first time in 2011/12. They have never lost a match.
Only one side has ever achieved more, Colstonâ€™s, whose six titles in a row prompted the â€˜importâ€™ limit to be introduced into the tournament laws. That record will surely stand to the end of time but if Dulwich College make it three in a row then that is the sort of status they will be moving towards.
They will move beyond the status of Cup greats that they share with the other back-to-back winners, they will become Cup Legends. They might not be in Colstonâ€™s territory but they will be in their very own category.
And nobody will be changing any rules afterwards.Â
By Angus Savage