Wednesdayâ€™s U18 NatWest Cup final will be high quality game of school rugby, and whether Bromsgrove or Dulwich College win, it will be an historic result.
Dulwich College are chasing a fourth title in a row, only the great Colstonâ€™s side of 1995-2000 have won more titles in succession, with six. Of course Colstonâ€™s went on to add a seventh with their 2004 win.
Dulwich are already the second most successful side in the tournaments history behind Colstonâ€™s though, they are the only other side to have picked up three on the trot, but a fourth would really put distance between them and those with â€˜mereâ€™ back to back titles.
For Bromsgrove it would be a first ever title, in what is really their first foray into the tournament (albeit they had a couple of half starts at the beginning of the millennium). It would also be the first time that the title has been won from outside of the London & South East region since Truro College back in 2009. The trophy has been held in the capital for a long time.
Indeed before this five year run, the South East was the least successful region of all, with only Campion and Wellington College (who are occasionally branded South West anyway) representing that London region. Now though they are second to the Colstonâ€™s dominated South West.
Bromsgrove might well be the toughest opponent that Dulwich have faced in their four finals. In Luke White they have a superb schoolboy fly half, capable of mixing perfectly between running, kicking, and passing, while their pack is a formidable unit that will cause problems. Any pack that can stand up to the Oundle pack as Bromgrove did in their semi final is a pack that must be respected.
When you consider that Bromsgrove won that game despite Oundleâ€™s Curry brothers in the back row looking comfortably the most at home players on the turf, this is a side that can box clever and work out a way to win games.
Boxing clever is what Dulwich would probably consider to be their main strength too. Yes they have that superb maul, but it is their ability to understand the game they are in and to work out how to win it that sets them apart. They will not flood the breakdown unless a turnover is on, they will simply fan out and absorb â€“ daring White to do something magical to break them down.
Expect plenty of kicking from both sides, this is not your average schoolboy games where both teams go out to fling the ball around. These are two sides with pretty professional attitudes; they are not going to play the game where they do not want to or without the right type of ball. That duel between White and Dulwichâ€™s Jonny Waugh will be key.
Once in the right areas both sides will happily up the tempo though, scrum half Pierre Thompson showed it for Dulwich against Wilmslow High in the semi final with a succession of tap penalties, while Bromsgrove possess some lovely runners in Chase Edwards and James Taylor, among others, who they will look to release when in Dulwich territory.
Those two semi final performances taught us a lot though. Bromsgroveâ€™s 27-18 win over Oundle was physically incredible. Physicality wise it was as tough a game of schoolboy rugby as there could be, but Bromsgrove weathered it and then accelerated away. 14-15 behind at half time became 27-18 in the end, just three second half points conceded.
It was a similar story in a way for Dulwich. Things were actually relatively even for a long time in their 50-14 victory over Wilmslow High School, but Dulwich were suffocating the life out of Wilmslow by playing the territorial game, forcing Wilmslow to try to play from where they did not want to and eventually stretching and tiring them to much, allowing them to accelerate away.
Of course you cannot preview a Dulwich College final without mention of their coaching staff. One title can be built on the back of a good yeargroup, a second too if that first yeargroup was largely lower 6th. But a third? A third demands that you start looking at the coaches, particularly at a school that does not really do a lot by way of importing.
A fourth final though and you really are talking about coaching, and not just the 1st XV coaches, coaches right from the youngest yeargroups up to the 1st XV must take credit, they all mould these players.
The lower 6th members of this Dulwich College side were only in their first year at the school when Dulwich won their first title back in 2012, it is quite incredible that they are now here at Twickenham too.
You can see the quality of the coaching on the field though, Sam Howard has his men playing with a maturity that is rarely seen on school pitches. Their game management is superb, their defensive discipline impeccable, their dedication to the shirt, to their gameplan and to following their instructions are all admirable. Simon Thomas deserves much credit too, his forward pack are the beating heart of the side, turning his maul into a reality, leading the charge in defence and playing with unbridled passion â€“ yet retaining that discipline. Outstanding.
That is the task that awaits Bromsgrove but Tony Windo and Paul Mullan are no slouches either. They are taken Bromsgrove on a notch this year, with this Cup run, beating Millfield, running Monmouth close. They are here very much on merit and pose a true threat to Dulwich.
Windo has been happy to look for help to, turning to good analysis to help his side progress, and like Dulwich, they are playing with great maturity. They understand when to play and when not to, and they can adapt to the manner in which an opponent is playing too. That is not easy at any age, let alone as a teenager.
This is set to be a brilliant game of rugby, a superb final, and a match that will live long in the memory. Schools rugby history beckons, one way or the other.
Bromsgrove v Dulwich College – U18 NatWest Cup Semi Final â€“ Wednesday 23rd March, Twickenham Stadium, 17.00
Stats & Prediction
Route to the Final:
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: 75-0 v Kind Edwardâ€™s, Lichfield
Round 4: 61-17 v Solihull
Round 5: 23-13 v Warwick
Round 6: 50-13 v Bloxham
Last 16: 23-15 v Stamford
Quarter Final: 44-17 v Dauntseyâ€™s
Semi Final: 27-18 v Oundle
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
Semi Final: 50-14 v Wilmslow High School
2014 NatWest Cup Record:
Dulwich â€“ Champions
Bromsgrove â€“ N/A
Best Cup Run:
Bromsgrove â€“ 2015, Cup Final; 2001, Cup Round 2 (Rarely Entered)
Dulwich â€“ 2014, 2013, 2012, Cup Champions, 2015 Final
Bromsgrove â€“ Luke White, Fly Half
Dulwich â€“ Tom Marchant, Number 8
Bromsgrove â€“ Tony Windo & Paul Mullan
Dulwich â€“ Sam Howard & Simon Thomas
XV Prediction: Dulwich College. Bromsgrove might well be the toughest opponent Dulwich have faced in one of these finals, but their nous in these Cup games is second to none. This could be a great final.
1. Harry Ferguson Â 2. Henry Walker Â 3. Harrison Fowke Â 4. Joe Morrice Â 5. Justin Clegg Â 6. Ben Schmermund Â 7. Harry Lloyd-Jones Â 8. Tom Ford Â 9. Paolo Parisi Â 10. Luke White (c) Â 11. Cooper Bent Â 12. Alex Nisbet Â 13. Chase Edwards Â 14. Jonty Thornton Â 15. James Taylor.
1. George Whichello Â 2. Richard De Rome Â 3. Andrew Baron Â 4. Luke Bliss Â 5. Charlie Dee Â 6. Ed Norris Â 7. Sam YoungerÂ 8. Tom Marchant (c) Â 9. Pierre Thompson Â 10. Jonny Waugh Â 11. Reece Pinnock Â 12. Ed Berry Â 13. Huw Roberts Â 14. Omar Malik Â 15. Anthony Nzegwu.