Tonbridge hold off late Eton rally to win again


Tonbridge just managed to stave off a late Eton College rally to secure a 26-20 victory against their famous opposition.

With most sides through to the last 16 of the new Schools Champions Trophy, the draw for which you can see here, this game was always going to be an interesting barometer for how these two compare ahead of a potential meeting later in that competition.

Both arrived in form having secured big midweek victories but there was not a lot to separate them by at half time, with Tonbridge leading 15-10 courtesy of a try right on the stroke of half time to add to an earlier Ballingall score.

Tonbridge were playing with good balance but had too many errors in the first half, while Eton were slightly on the back foot but were able to use their magnificent driving maul to put Tonbridge under all kinds of pressure, with one of their two first half scores coming directly from the maul.

That half time score was a crucial one for Tonbridge though,  sending them into the break high on confidence, whilst also landing a major blow to Eton’s confidence.

The away side were up for the fight though, however an injury early in the second half saw the game take a long pause, and resulted in England U16 captain Ben Earl moving from number 8 to centre for Tonbridge, with more ball coming his way as a result.

That was less than ideal for Eton, who now had a big powerhouse running at their midfield with plenty of time to get himself up to speed. No longer running of nine of ten, Earl was steaming up the outside channels.

If that makes it sound like the Ben earl show though, then we do the team an injustice. For the first twenty minutes of the second half Tonbridge really upped their game as a team, blasting out to a 23-10 lead.

The home side were organised in defence, and expansive in attack, searching for half breaks and offloads to really keep the Eton defence retreating. After those two tries to take the score out to a thirteen point lead, the general feeling on the touchline was that they would probably build on that score and start to run away with it.

But for that maul.

Balancing on the precipice, Eton won a penalty and put it deep into Tonbridge territory, setting up a dangerous lineout opportunity. Clinically, the away side set up their maul and calmly shunted their way towards the Tonbridge line to score a crucial try.

It was a real momentum shifter, spoiled only by the conversion just missing, leaving them still requiring two scores if they were to make a sensational comeback.

Suddenly though the opportunities were there, and Tonbridge soon coughed up another penalty. ‘Tap and go’ came the cry from the touchlines, but the Eton coaching staff calmy and dryly simply shook their heads and said, ‘no no, we know what we do from here’.

They certainly do, and once again they went to the touchline to set up the maul.

This time it came down before they could score, but illegally so in the eyes of the referee, so with advantage on their side, the away team slid through a grubber kick to allow their centre to score the most dramatic of tries.

The conversion was missed but at this point it was irrelevant, either way Eton had to score again and with the momentum with them it seemed now like if anyone were to get a chance it would be them.

With just over a minute remaining though, Eton just could not wrestle possession from Tonbridge, competing hard though they were, Tonbridge are no slouches and knew how to keep possession.

Eventually through their desperation, Eton gave away a penalty, and Tonbridge, using plenty of experienced, used their full minute before landing the kick with the last touch of the game to seal a 26-20 victory.

On balance it was probably a fair result, but in that final twenty minutes Eton gave their hosts a real shock, and proved (as they did through the rest of the game to be fair) that they are a real force this year.

It was certainly a great advert for schoolboy rugby.

Full Time: Tonbridge 26-20 Eton College

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