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Wellington sink Whitgift in a battle of wills in Croydon

Some people like their rugby to be a line-break dominated, try-scoring attack fest, where defence is very much second fiddle. Others like their rugby to be about desire, commitment, a battle of wills – and that’s not to say that there is necessarily any less quality in such play either.

Whitgift v Wellington certainly fell into the latter category. Sure, there were two tries and some outstanding line-breaks, not least one stunning break from Wellington’s openside Isaac Curtis-Harris and a loely break from outside half Will Brinkley that allowed Matt Williams to open the scoring, after all it was two quality teams playing quality rugby, but this game was all about the battle of wills, it was a genuine and fascinating contest.

Wellington were the side to come out on top, winning 16-6 against the home side, and you simply had to praise the sheer quality and tenacity of their defence, it was outstanding and it was passionate.

The game all hung on a fifteen minute period just after the start of the second half. Wellington led 13-6 at the break at half time thanks to a Will Wilson penalty and two well worked tries, including an excellent socre from Tom Papke, versus two Alex Hogg penalties for Whitgift, but at the start of the second half, it was Whitgift who had seized the momentum.

Wellington, already without the injured Connor Dolan, lost Harlequins full back Sam Aspland-Robinson to injury midway through the first half, denying them of the services of two of their very best players, and two potential match winners.

In that early period of the second Whitgift battered away in the Wellington 22 and at their line. Time and time again though Wellington rebuffed them. Curtis-Harris, Wilson, and Ingall were getting through a tremendous amount of work in defence, as were the rest of the pack, while Trowbridge and Williams were tireless in the centres.

Whitgift were relentless though, scrum half and captain Alex Patton was cajoling his troops and getting feisty with his opposite number Rory Brand, while ahead of him his pack were getting through an unbelievable amount of work to give him good ball. Matt Gallagher, as ever, was a threat and it seemed like a matter of time before the home side would score to give themselves a chance of levelling the game.

Wellington would to be abated though, they simply refused to let Whitgift cross the whitewash, the quality and intensity of their defence perfectly matching that of Whitgift’s attack.

It should not have come as a surprise, we have already seen this season in coming from 13-7 down to Dulwich to draw 13-13 and in holding off RGS High Wycombe on the opening weekend that Wellington are not just a highly skilled unit, as they showed v Marlborough, they are just a tough nut to crack.

They were pumped too, the roar of celebration as they won a penalty as they drove their maul up to the edge of their own 22 having won a lineout was greeted with more joy than their fat half tries had been, they knew it was special.

Will Brinkley’s clearing kick from the penalty took them into Whitgift territory for almost the first time in the half, and it felt like that was the momentum shift. From then on the game was in large part played in the middle third of the pitch, with Whitgift using the boot perhaps too often as they became frustrated with the Wellington defence and looked for another way past it.

It had been a brilliant game, and the second half, though still scoreless at this stage, had been the most fascinating of the two, such was this chess like (and immensely physical) battle of wills between attack and defence.

It was fitting though that the last play of the game saw Wellington mount an attack down the right hand side, an excellent break involving newcomer Rory Brand, giving them a penalty with the last kick of the match. Captain Will Wilson stepped up (is there a more all rounded player in the country, captain, number 8, kicker?) and slotted it from out near the touchline to give his team a 16-6 win.

It was a tremendous match, a match of spirit, guts, determination, and no little quality. You will hear plenty of these names again in the future.

Full Time: Whitgift 6-16 Wellington College

Photos of the game are on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby

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