Dulwich Collegeâ€™s three and a half year unbeaten run in the NatWest Schools Cup continues after they beat John Fisher 14-5 at home to progress to the 6th round.
The victory sets up a 6th round tie against Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School, ahead of a likely London & South East Division â€˜finalâ€™ (round 7) fixture against either Trinity or Berkhamsted, assuming results at the top of the draw go according to form.
The mild autumn has meant that there has been very little â€˜winterâ€™ rugby played this season, but today was most certainly a winter rugby day, and Dulwich played it well. There was a strong first half wind blowing into Dulwich faces, a drizzling rain sweeping across with it, and near freezing temperatures â€“ it was a day for smart and patient rugby.
That is not to say that John Fisher were not smart or patient themselves, three Dulwich yellow cards more than speaks for the pressure that John Fisher were exerting on their hosts, more that Dulwich College know so well how to play these conditions, and even more so â€“ they know how to play Cup rugby.
It was never going to be a high scoring game, cold hands, a strong wind, and a greasy ball will make that a near certainty, but it was enthralling. John Fisher had the early running of things, but much like they were against Tonbridge on Saturday, the Dulwich defence was impregnable.
Still, it was relentless stuff, yet that strong defence was to pay dividends for Dulwich as they snaffled possession in their own half and sent right wing Omar Malik running at the John Fisher defence.
Malik beat the first two defenders as he moved towards the halfway and suddenly there was open space ahead. As he swept over to the left wing, the Dulwich faithful rose, willing their man into the John Fisher 22. Malik held off the first cover tackles before eventually he was hauled down and the ball bundled into touch just a couple of metres short of the try line.
It was Dulwichâ€™s first real attack, and the crowdâ€™s roar was clearly pumping the players up, with a five metre lineout coming, everyone knew what to expect â€“ that Dulwich maul. They tried it once but it was pulled down, knowing their strength though, fly half Jonathan Waugh nudged the ball out for another go.
Three times this happened before the referee lost patience and sent a John Fisher player to the bin. Dulwich set up for a fourth and as they surged towards the line, scrum half Pierre Thompson took on the ball to go diving over in the left hand corner, with Waugh adding the extras to give the home side a 7-0 lead.
The score remained at 7-0 until half time, and given the conditions Dulwich would have been delighted, it was the sort of first half wind that they would have been saying ahead of kick off gave John Fisher a two try start.
That said, Fisher had dominated possession, but with the wind at their backs, Dulwich opted to put boot to ball far more in the second half, with Waugh, Thompson, inside centre Ed Berry, and full back Ralph Marchant all directing the ball around the park, pinning John Fisher back in their own half.
Fisher were plugging away though, forcing Dulwich to commit more than they wanted to at the breakdown, and causing plenty of problems with their own maul too.
Having committed a few offences around that area, Dulwichâ€™s penalty count was inevitably going to lead to a second yellow of the game, with loosehead George Wichello going to the bin â€“ the unfortunate man on the end of a team decision.
Forward power and breakdown nous was obviously going to be key for the reminder of the game, so when a midfield scrum took place shortly after and Dulwich had to bring on a front row replacement, they brought him on for a back, keeping their 8 man pack but losing a man out wide.
It was a sensible decision given the type of game that was taking place, but unfortunately for the home side it left John Fisher with space to exploit as they span the ball wide from the base of the scrum. They had room on the left wing to absolutely fly down the touchline, leaving Dulwich defenders trailing.
A strong fend eventually saw the Fisher left winger scorch over on the left hand side, a simply sublime finish from a run that began well inside his own half. It left a tough conversion, which unfortunately dragged just wide, leaving Dulwich still 7-5 infront.
Nevertheless, a try like that seemed certain to swing the momentum John Fisherâ€™s way, yet chaos at the restart saw the ball spilled. With the ball of the deck and bodies and boots flailing to either retrieve it or hack it on, it eventually ended up over the John Fisher line, where Dulwich centre Ed Berry dived on it to score one of the more unusual tries you are likely to see.
Waughâ€™s conversion took the score out to 14-5, and while Fisher battled hard in the remaining minutes, forcing Dulwich to concede their third yellow card of the afternoon, they could not breach the rock solid Dulwich defence.
It was not an eye catching game, but it was the sort of win for Dulwich College that will leave them with a great sense of satisfaction, knowing as they do that the unglamorous games tend to be the most telling, that is where character and know how really count.
With three Cup successes in a row, Dulwich certainly have the know how, and they are now just two games away from the national stages of the competition once again.
Can they make it four in a row? It is too early to say, but it will take a top team to knock them out, that much is for sure.
Full Time: Dulwich College 14-5 John Fisher
Photos of the game are available on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby