Grammar School at Leeds see off RGS Guildford to reach Champions Trophy semis

Grammar School at Leeds sealed their place in the semi finals of the inaugural Schools Champions Trophy with an excellent 24-15 victory away at RGS Guildford.

They join Millfield and Barnard Castle, who beat Eton College and Marlborough College respectively on Wednesday, and Oakham, who defied their underdog status to defeat Epsom College 17-15 and book their semi final slot – you can see a replay of that game here, Oakham v Epsom College.

Four tries sealed the deal for GSAL, who got the shock of their lives at the start of the game. Coming into the game as reasonable favourites, the Yorkshire side must have looked at their size difference man for man and felt that this game would be theirs, however that did not account for the tenacity of the RGS Guildford forward pack or the guile of their backline, guided by the excellent RGS fly half.

RGS certainly showed their hand early, scoring a superb try down the wing within two minutes of the game to give them a 5-0 lead, with news coming through of Oakham also leading Epsom, it seemed like a day of upsets could be ahead.

GSAL were in no mood to be upset though and they regathered themselves, and started to play like the all conquering side that they are so far this season, with their big ball carriers like Phillips, Francis, and Shepherd really raising the intensity.

Their belief was growing and that was shown when twelve minutes in fly half Brown-Raw opted to go to the corner with a kickable penalty, backing his forwards to do the job. Do the job they did indeed and he was soon hovering over the tee, only it was now for a conversion after the brilliant maul work from his forwards. Naturally, he slotted it, giving GSAL a 7-5 lead.

Now GSAL had momentum and were beginning to bring their backline into play a little more, with Newett and Megson hitting some excellent angles off Brown-Raw to get over the gainline.

That running soon coughed up another penalty, which again GSAL went to the corner with. This time from the maul they fed the backs and Newett was able to stroll over the line and give Brown-Raw the easiest of opportunities to double the GSAL score, and so he did, giving them a 14-5 lead.

GSAL were beginning to dominate possession, and with those two quick scores one might have feared for RGS Guildford, however RGS’ tenacity in defence was simply astonishing. The number of turnovers pinched and tackles made by their two flankers was off the charts, our reporter had a go a counting for a while but it soon became clear that it would become impossible to keep count, such was their brilliance on the floor.

That positivity in defence soon yielded a penalty for RGS, which allowed them to narrow the scores to 14-8, which it remained for the rest of the half.

It seemed like an important score for RGS, just wrestling away momentum from GSAL at a crucial moment. However within minutes of the restart Grammar School at Leeds were crossing for their third try, having reverted back to using their big ball carriers up front, and to brilliant effect.

It may have been Hardman under it, possibly Sherpherd, it almost did not matter, the point was the try and that it had come through sheer determination and will to come out of the blocks flying, as RGS had in the first half.

Oddly though, being 19-8 down seemed to inspire RGS as over the next twenty minutes they had arguably their strongest period of the game. Certainly their work at the breakdown was causing GSAL to very hard, though it must be said that Webster and captain Ward had some excellent turnovers for the away side too, but it was perhaps just that they had upped their intensity as GSAL’s dropped just a touch.

With twenty minutes remaining, that little shift in momentum paid dividends for RGS, who scored after a series of strong breaks. Fittingly it was a try started and finished by their back row, and converted by their fly half, the spine of the team on the day.

That brought it back to a nervy 19-13 scoreline and the frustration was growing for GSAL. Unfortunately that frustration also seeped to the touchline, where one passionate supporter had to be spoken to by the referee. It is never enjoyable to report such things, it tends to tarnish more people than it should but it is always important to highlight that these referees are giving up their time to allow all of this to happen. What it did show though is the passion that this new schools rugby tournament has ignited, people are travelling from Yorkshire to Surrey to support their teams – even at Premiership level that has not always been the case.

On the field GSAL were showing plenty of passion too, sweeping forward in attack again now, and again bringing their backs into play more and more, where they were making great inroads through the centre channels.

As the clock ticked nearer to the five minutes left mark though, the sense was that GSAL needed to score again, and sure enough, they did.

And what a beauty it was. Fully three times the ball went from one side of the pitch to the other, and never without purpose, it was simple and physical, yet creative rugby, using the full width of the pitch and never shirking the chance to straighten.

That type of play always yields an overlap, it is just a matter of when, and on the third width the overlap came and was brilliantly executed. Twice runners took the ball right to the line, where so often you see players make bad decisions and get wrapped up, but not with this top quality Grammar School at Leeds outfit, they drew their men perfectly to release their reliable and fleet of foot fullback, Jonny Haslem to dart over.

It took the score out to 24-15, effectively sealing the game, and while RGS did have one more attack, Grammar School at Leeds snaffled it out, as they had done well throughout.

It was a brave performance from RGS though, they deserve great credit for their performance and for their part in what has been a wonderful competition so far. For Grammar School at Leeds though it was an example of why they are a good side, they were able to mix up their game plan when necessary, and crucially to be able to recognise that onfield.

Most impressive though was the timings of their scores. Conceding early they showed patience to work their way back into the game and into the lead. Ceding momentum at half time they came flying out of the traps and scored, and then at the end, when things were getting a little close and a home crowd could just drag their side to victory, GSAL scored the crucial try to close out the game.

Those sorts of scores are signs not just of quality but of mental strength, of being able to strike when it is most required.

None of the other three remaining sides will much fancy playing them, and that tells you all that you need to know.

Full Time: RGS Guildford 15-24 Grammar School at Leeds

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By Angus Savage


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