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RGS High Wycombe & Dulwich College chase history on Saturday

NatWest Schools Cup history. That is what is at stake for both RGS High Wycombe and Dulwich College when they meet at Allianz Park for their NatWest Cup semi final on Saturday.

RGS High Wycombe are looking to become the first side since Bradford Grammar School to take a crop of players to U15 Schools Cup victory and then to follow them through to U18 Schools Cup victory. Dulwich College are looking to become the first side to win the Cup in three successive years since the mighty Colston’s ‘six in a row’ group that won every year from 1995 to 2000, and one can be fairly certain that a Dulwich win will not be prompting any rules changes.

Twickenham and a shot at that history beckons for the winners then, while for the losers it will be a case of what might have been. Both will have cursed their luck at having drawn each other when the draw came through though, for whichever wins on Saturday will be labeled the favourites for the final.

RGS High Wycombe have been here before though, in 1998 and 1999 they were also in a position to do the U15 and U18 ‘double’ but fell at the final hurdle to that mighty Colston’s side. If you’re looking for omens, that 1998 final was Colston’s third Cup success in a row.

This is a very, very good RGS side though. They have an outstanding physical presence and their game management and understanding is incredible for a side so young.

In the likes of Ben Wood, Alex Murphy, and Ross Neal they have true quality as well, while their run to the semi final has been arguably the toughest of anyone. They have had to beat, in succession, Marlborough College, Bicton College, and Hampton.

Those are three top quality sides, Marlborough were our 2012 Christmas Team of the Term, Bicton are part of the Exeter Chiefs Academy, and Hampton were Cup semi finalists last year and were our Team of the Month at the time of their quarter final against RGS.

RGS might not have crushed these sides but they beat them, and that is the point of Cup rugby – it is about getting to the next game. That is not to say that they have not been impressive, their 6-0 win over Hampton in the quarters was a masterclass of rugby in wet and windy conditions, with Wood’s tactical brilliance to the fore.

Dulwich will not be to worried about being out maneuvered tactically though. In fact if there has been one criticism of Dulwich in the past few years it is that they have sometimes been too tactically aware, at the expense of running.

It is a criticism that is some way wide of the mark though. Yes Dulwich have an excellent power and mauling game, focused around the irrepressible Josh Ibuanokpe, who along with John Winter is chasing his third NatWest Cup winners’ medal, and they know exactly where they want to play the game, but they also have some of the most exciting broken field runners in the country, Ali Neden at full back is a player who could cut through any defence at any time – and does, Dulwich are more than happy to throw the ball about.

The strange thing this season has been that Dulwich have crept under the radar somewhat, which given that they are the back to back champions seems bizarre.

As their Head of Rugby, Sam Howard said: “There was also a presumption that we would win last year with the team we had, whereas this year our success has come as a surprise to many people.”

The reality is though that while Dulwich did lose some superstars last year, nine of that group that won in the final are still in the 1st XV, two of whom are chasing a third final, success should come as no surprise.

There was a bit of a dip, 5 regular season losses was probably more than they would have liked, however in the Cup they have almost breezed through. They have been lucky not to have faced any major challenges, though Lymm’s half back pairing are a pretty tricky duo, but the sense of momentum that they have carried along has been building and building.

There is pressure though, Bradford Grammar School, Oakham, and Whitgift have all had the opportunity to go for three in a row and have fallen short, indeed it was against Dulwich on the way to their first title that Whitgift’s dream of three was cut short. To be in with a chance of going for history Dulwich will have to turn in the performance of the season against RGS.

They have stepped up plenty of times already this season though, beating Brighton, John Fisher, Hampton, and Tonbridge, RGS have lost to both John Fisher and Hampton so Dulwich will know that the opportunity is there.

The return of the two try hero of the 2013 final, Hector McKimm, will also be a huge boost for Dulwich, as will the fact that they have already had a couple of run outs at Allianz Park recently. The champions will be as well prepared as it is possible to be.

All of which makes this an incredibly exciting semi final match up. It is rare that two sides can turn up at this stage and have an opportunity to go for such an historic achievement, but these two are. Whoever wins on Saturday will give themselves the opportunity at Twickenham to become one of the best known Schools Cup sides of all time.

The challenge is to make sure that they do not make this game their final though. You can be sure that Durham and Warwick in the earlier game will not.

It’s all set to be the biggest school game of the year to date.

U18 NatWest Schools Cup semi final: RGS High Wycombe v Dulwich College, Saturday 8th March, Allianz Park, 14.15

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