Dulwich College remain on course for a fourth NatWest Schools Cup title in a row after beating rivals Hampton 8-7 at the quarter final stage.
In two of their first three titles Dulwich faced Hampton, at the last 16 stage in 2012 and in the semi finals in 2013, both games were nail-biters, and this was no different.
Coming from 7-0 behind, Dulwich scored a try through prolific winger Omar Malik before a late Johnny Waugh drop goal sealed the victory for them in dramatic style.
It was hard not to feel sorry for Hampton, there was little more they could have done. Dulwichâ€™s great strength has been their ability to set up a great platform through their set piece, and to use the maul from lineout ball to great effect. Hampton nullified that, utterly dominating the lineout, to the extent that Dulwich barely had a go at a maul, and having the swing of the whistle at the scrum too.
Most sides shorn of that primary source of ball and seeing their strengths turned back on them would crumble, not Dulwich, and certainly not in this competition. Their victory, close as it was, was built on superb game management, organisation (both in defence and attack), and utterly impregnable defence. To this writers memory Hampton had just one full line break all game, early in the first half, a phase later Dulwich won a penalty at the breakdown.
Hampton were hardly shabby on the defensive front either, and the 0-0 half time scoreline reflected that. Both sides were hammering away but they were not about to start slipping off tackles. Indeed this was not the sort of game you can sometimes see at school level where it is about making sure you do not slip off tackles, this was about making sure that your tackles are dominant ones.
With the game being so tight, it felt as though any score might prove decisive, so when Hampton were awarded a penalty try midway through the second half for a 7-0 lead, it seemed as though it could be crucial.
Perhaps even more important though was the manner of the score, it came from three successive lineouts, with the successive mauls, that yielded three successive penalties and eventually the penalty try. Hampton, it seemed, had out â€˜Dulwichedâ€™ Dulwich.
The response to that score though was the reason why this school has never lost a NatWest Cup game, why they have won the last three titles, and why they might very well win a fourth this March. They simply do not panic and they refuse to be beaten.
For the bulk of the rest of the half it was Dulwich pressure, and it was pressure built on winning penalties, turnovers, and securing kicked ball, the set piece was yielding little.
The term â€˜playing in the right areas of the fieldâ€™ is often used, but rarely is it demonstrated so well as in this game. Dulwich were quite happy to stick the ball in the Hampton 22 and concede possession, despite time ticking, safe in the knowledge that Hampton would have to send it back, and possibly that there might even be a turnover chance before they could.
So it proved as one Hampton possession was turned over deep in their territory. Dulwich worked it back and forth before eventually managing to squeeze it out Malik to bundle over. Not the classic weaving try that he has been scoring this season, but you suspect maybe the sweetest.
The touchline conversion was missed but, oddly, it was irrelevant. Due to the rules, a draw would have seen Hampton through as the away side so a second score was always necessary for Dulwich.
What a way it was to get that second score, there were no more than two minutes left as with his pack piling on the pressure on the left hand side in the Hampton 22, Waugh dropped into the pocket.
Patiently he waited for the ball, no hurrying of his forwards or nervous talk with his scrum half, Pierre Thompson. Waugh trusted his teammates to deliver the ball when it was right, and displaying customary calm and lack of panic when they did he swung a tidy right boot to the ball for three well struck points and an 8-7 lead.
It was the perfect show of calm, as he had sown all game. Five minutes or so earlier Director of Rugby Sam Howard was deploring him to go for the drop goal, but Waugh ran. Getting up after the tackle he simply said that the scoreboard clock was wrong, there was plenty of time, no need yet. Calmness personified.
That is what will strike the most fear into the opposition awaiting them in the semi final, you can take away all the pillars that their victory is usually built on but what it seems cannot be crumbled is their mental approach. Dulwich College simply believe that they can win and they refuse to panic when the chips are down. That is tough to beat, as Hampton would testify to.
Final Score: Dulwich College 8-7 Hampton
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