It is hard to imagine that there is any side that would fancy facing Dulwich College in the U18 NatWest Cup, they have never lost a game, and have one the last three editions of the competition, yet that is the task that Wilmslow High School face in Saturdayâ€™s semi final at 17.00 at Allianz Park.
Dulwich College are, right now, the kings of this competition. It seems that no matter what is thrown at them, they find a way to win.
Their quarter final against Hampton was a prime example of this, Hampton simply could not have done more. They played brilliant, shut down Dulwichâ€™s usual areas of strength and secured a 7-0 lead with twenty minutes to go.
Yet Dulwich still managed to secure an 8-7 victory, through an Omar Malik try and a late Jonny Waugh drop goal. Even when their areas of strength begin to get closed off, their game management, tactical nous, and most importantly their mental strength, defensive shape and understanding, and their sheer will to win a their know how in this competition all come to the fore.
They are without doubt one of the very best coached teams in the country. To be at this stage four years running tells you that this is about far more that the fifteen players on the pitch, that none are currently involved in academies tells you more still. This is a very good set of players, as all four years have been, but they are a good set of players who are being coached brilliantly, and who are being given a level of understanding of how to play and win games of rugby that is pretty close to unrivalled.
It is, therefore, an immense task facing Wilmslow. Yet so was their quarter final against St Josephâ€™s College. Few outside of their own school expected them to travel all the way to Ipswich to one of the most well supported and passionate sides in the country and come away as the semi finalists, yet Wilmslow did just that.
They did so brilliantly as well, clearly finding themselves reveling under the pressure and intensity, and they brought great width and pace to the game, with winger Broghan Wilson scoring a sensational hat-trick.
That style of play will be even more effective at Allianz Park, while Wilson has certainly proved to be a dangerous attacking weapon and will be a real handful for Dulwich. He will need to be mindful, in Reece Pinnock opposite him, Dulwich have possibly one of the most tenacious winger, both in attack and defence, in the entire country. That will be one battle to really keep an eye on, if one or the other gets their tail up, that could have a significant impact on the game.
The two sideâ€™s captains are also vital to their efforts, Wilmslow hooker Chris Taylor and Dulwich number 8 Tom Marchant epitomise what each side needs from a captain, and in many ways they are similar players. Both are incredibly tenacious and hard working, able to link the play with their handling but never more comfortable than when bringing men down and disrupting the tackle are.
Despite Dulwichâ€™s three titles, Wilmslow will not be intimidated, time and time again on this Cup run they have encountered sides who ought to pose a huge challenge to them and they have come out as the winners.
Kingâ€™s Macceslfield and Stonyhurst College are two of the top sides in the North and both could have gone far in this competition, Wilmslow secured narrow wins against both of them though, showing that likes Dulwich they can match the best of them in the mental stakes.
They showed it in that game against St Josephâ€™s too. Yes there was some outstanding attacking play, but as St Josephâ€™s came back late on and levelled the game their momentum was irresistible, yet Wilmslow did not crumble, weathered the stop, and came out on top, that experience will be invaluable.
If invaluable experience is what we are looking at though, then Dulwichâ€™s three titles are as good as it gets, and so too has been their progress this year.
In John Fisher, Trinity, and Hampton they have faced three of the toughest sides not just in the region, but in the country. Each time they were tested, each time in different ways, yet each time they came through it. Each time the word on the touchline has been of their incredible composure and their ability to manage these tight and tense Cup games.
That is exactly what to expect on Saturday evening. Dulwich will try to suffocate Wilmlsow of any territory, pinging the ball behind them into difficult areas and then asking them to go around them. You will not see a lot of turnover attempts, just solid, organised, and committed defence as they wait for a mistake to pounce on.
It is an immense task for Wilmslow, but they have proven that they can handle that. The question is, can they do anything that John Fisher, Trinity, or Hampton could not?
For Dulwich this is a chance to add to their legacy. Their L6th players had only just started senior school when Sam Howardâ€™s men won their first title, this is a team and a school that simply does not understand defeat in this competition.
Wilmslow High School v Dulwich College – U18 NatWest Cup Semi Final – Saturday 7th March, 17.00, Allianz Park
Stats & Prediction
Route to the Semi Final:
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: 20-10 v St Ambrose College
Round 4: 29-26 v Kingâ€™s Macclesfield
Round 5: 17-6 v Ermystedâ€™s Grammar
Round 6: 10-7 v Stonyhurst College
Last 16: 32-3 v St Peterâ€™s York
Quarter Final: 25-25 v St Josephâ€™s College (through on try countback)
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: 47-0 v Ravens Wood
Round 4: 34-0 v New Hall
Round 5: 14-5 v John Fisher
Round 6: 26-7 v Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar
Last 16: 21-16 v Trinity
Quarter Final: 8-7 v Hampton
2014 NatWest Cup Record:
Dulwich â€“ Champions
Wilmslow High â€“ Cup Round 3, Vase Quarter Final
Best Cup Run:
Dulwich â€“ 2014, 2013, 2012, Cup Champions
Wilmslow High â€“ 2015, Cup Semi Final; 2011, Cup Semi Finals; 2007, Vase Runners Up
Wilmslow â€“ Chris Taylor, Hooker
Dulwich â€“ Tom Marchant, Number 8
Wilmslow â€“ Sam Naylor
Dulwich â€“ Sam Howard & Simon Thomas
XV Prediction: Dulwich College. Wilmslow will chuck everything at this, but Dulwich will not let the occasion or the opposition get in the way of their goal.
Who do you think will win the U18 NatWest Cup? Vote here: U18 NatWest Cup Vote