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Durham & Warwick prepare to give all for a shot at glory

Durham and Warwick have both experienced Schools Cup semi finals and finals before, these are schools with serious NatWest Cup history.

Durham reached the final in 2001 and 2006, while Warwick were Champions in 2007 and reached the semi finals last year.

Saturday’s semi finals at Allianz Park should not prove to stressful for this pair then, all the talk is that the semi finals are ‘just another game’. Do not be fooled though, these schools are chasing their own bit of history this weekend.

Durham versus Warwick is the first game on the card, kicking off at midday on Saturday. It is probably fair to say that two are the ‘underdogs’ of the four semi finalists, but that really means very little – whatever happens, come 13.30 one of them will have booked their place at Twickenham on the 29th March.

Durham are probably the least known and least predictable of the four semi finalists. Not because they a little known side, far from it, they are rather prestigious, but because they play on a different circuit to the other three due to simple geography and therefore have no common opponent.

As Mark Nasey, their opponents, Warwick’s, Director of Rugby said:

“We don’t know a lot about Durham, but I’m sure they’ll pose us plenty of challenges…there is not much crossover in fixture lists so it’s hard to know what to expect.”

It is that geography that brings England lock Geoff Parling’s old school their opportunity to create some history though.

In the early years of the U18 Schools Cup the ‘northern’ schools dominated, winning in three of the first four seasons. However not since the last of those, Mount St Mary’s in 1994, has a northern school won the U18 NatWest Cup. Several have come close, Durham themselves are two-time finalists, RGS Newcastle, St Peter’s York, and Kirkham Grammar School have all reached finals since that Mount St Mary’s triumph.

QEGS Wakefield and Barnard Castle have reached three each, but none has yet managed to cross that threshold and win the Cup for the north. Durham have the opportunity to do that, and you can bet that they will be giving it everything to do so.

Unfortunately they will be doing so without their captain, Ruari Bell, who was injured ahead of their last 16 tie against Stonyhurst, however Director of Rugby Ben Mason has been widely quoted as saying that in many ways the loss has helped his side’s spirit:

“Everyone has had to pull together and step up as he is someone the lads have looked up to since year seven.”

Step up they have, they beat Stonyhurst 20-7, an incredible result given that Stonyhurst were considered as dark horses for this competition, while an 11-0 win over an excellent Adams Grammar School side in the quarter finals was exceptional. Factoring in the weather conditions you could as easily double that score.

This is a Durham side with quality and plenty to prove.

Their opponents on Saturday, Warwick, suffered an injury scare of their own when star their star man and England U16 scrum half, Harry Bassett, was forced off against Stowe in the quarter final, however Fifteen Rugby understands that he is clear to play.

Warwick, like Durham, have their own little bit of geographical history to chase in this year’s competition. In the U18 Cups 23 year existence the Cup has only been one by sides from the North and Midlands regions on seven occasions.

In the last ten years it was only happened once, back in 2007 when Warwick themselves won it.

Warwick will be determined to go one better than their semi final performance last year and to reach Twickenham, but they will desperate to go even further – to back up that victory seven years ago and to have ‘Warwick School 2014’ engraved on the trophy. Cementing their, statistical, position as the biggest single threat to the Schools Cup dominance of the South East and South West.

They have shown this year that they have both the quality, results, determination, and indeed luck to do so.

Outside of the Cup they have had some truly momentous results, drawing with Millfield on the opening day of the season and beating the 2010 and 2011 Schools Cup champions, Whitgift, to name just two.

It is in the NatWest Cup though where their true spirit and determination has been shown.

Twice Warwick have scraped through in this competition having drawn games. First, in the 5th round against Solihull, Warwick came from 31-12 down with just fifteen minutes left on the clock to tie things up at 31 all, to progress on tries scored.

If that seems like true guts and spirit then their second escape, a last sixteen tie against Stamford, took things to another level. With five minutes remained they led Stamford, however the home side scored at what felt like the death so take the game away from Warwick.

However with just one play left, Warwick won the kick off and set up a huge driving maul in the Stamford 22, driving over to level the scores on the final whistle, progressing as the away side.

Sensational stuff, and a warning to anyone who might underestimate them.

Naturally there is an element of luck in progressing in such a manner, and other teams may seize upon their almost going out as a weakness, but that would be to ignore the incredible determination, skill, and effort that it took to progress in each game.

Both sides know the challenge that awaits them should they progress, both Dulwich and RGS High Wycombe are outstanding sides, however these two sides are both chasing the chance to make a mark for themselves, their regions, and the record books, and they are pretty decent themselves – just ask Whitgift, or Barnard Castle, or Millfield, or RGS Newcastle.

U18 NatWest Cup semi final: Durham v Warwick – Saturday 8th March, Allianz Park, 12.00

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