Wellington College capped a perfect 2015 7s season by winning the HSBC Rosslyn Park National School 7s this afternoon, beating John Fisher 12-7 in the final.
It ends what truly has been an incredible 7s season from this outstanding group of players, who have won every tournament they have entered and have not lost a single game along the way.
At times their play both today and across the whole of the season has been sublime, unplayable almost, as their stellar cast list has run rings around teams with their ability to score tries from anywhere. As with all successful 7s sides though, it is their defence and their ability to organise and reorganise that has been the backbone to their progress.
That ability was vital today, they probably would not mind it being said that it was not their most complete attacking performance today, the end of a long season, perhaps nerves, and a list of absentees all just taking their attacking play down just a notch. Only, of course, by their own lofty standards. They were still probably the best attacking side in the tournament, demonstrating just how brilliant that attack can be.
What that meant though was that the role of their defence, their fast organisation, their communication, and the relentless pressure that they put the opposition under was laid bare for all of those watching to see. Against Hartpury College in their quarter final group and John Fisher in the final they found themselves in low scoring tightly fought games, in those games every minor slip up is a potential game changer, however Wellington simply did not make errors, forcing their opponents into trying too hard to regain possession.
At the fore in those tight games were captain Will Wilson and England U18 international Connor Dolan. Their leadership and sheer physicality in defence was quite outstanding, as was their physicality in attack, it is a point not often made but a big clear out in a ruck can be a huge attacking weapon, these two did that time and time again.
Of course with ball in hand they were exceptional too, Dolan putting himself in the frame for Player of the Tournament, though the excellent Wellington College cast list around him will all be vying for that too, the likes of Rory Brand and Tom Parton were exceptional, Will Brinkley and Ollie Kitto too. Frankly, the whole squad could be named.
It should also be noted that Wellington suffered injuries to two key players, Matt Williams and Tom Papke, as well as missing Sam Aspland-Robinson due to England U18 commitments.
If there was a sour note to the day, perhaps it was that. So many sides were shorn of brilliant players due to England U18 commitments. How superb it would have been to see Aspland-Robinson and Millfield’s Darren Atkins in opposition in the semi final today.
Nevertheless, what a semi final that was, comfortably the best game of the entire tournament, between probably the two best teams in the tournament (with a nod of huge respect in the direction of John Fisher), we were served up sixty points in those fourteen minutes of rugby.
What a truly special fourteen minutes. Those at the ground or watching on the superbly popular and successful Serious Stuff Live Stream will remember that game for a long time.
It ebbed and flowed with the lead changing hands and the momentum too, whilst some of the tries were just mind blowingly good. Millfield’s Josh Bayliss, another Player of the Tournament contender scored two exceptional tries, Adam Hastings scored another, while for Wellington, who were to eventually dramatically win 31-29, Dolan, Brand, and Brinkley all scored scorchers.
Such a high scoring game might suggest slack defending but that was far from the case, this was two sublimely talented and well coached sides showing attacking genius to break through miserly defences.
Perhaps the best example came right at the death. Wellington led 31-24 with Millfield attacking deep in Wellington territory and with no time on the clock. They needed a converted try to send the game into extra time. Both sides were out of their feet but Wellington dug into their reserves, and showed that excellent defence mentioned earlier.
It was an example of attacking brilliance and miserly defence though because Millfield still managed to cross the whitewash, yet Wellington’s strength in the middle forced the to do so out wide, forcing the most difficult possible conversion in rugby, which with a drop kicked conversion is 50/50 at best, no matter how good you are. That effort and quality in defence paid dividends, the two points, just, drifting wide to give Wellington a 31-29 victory.
That put Wellington College into the final, where they were to meet John Fisher, who had their own impressive tale to tell. They had only made it to Day 2 by the skin of their teeth as best runners up, but they then stunned Sedbergh in their quarter final pool before beating Sherborne in their semi final to end up in the Rosslyn Park Open final, their second in two years after they lost to Millfield last year.
They certainly made it tough for Wellington, very tough at times, few would have predicted a narrow 12-7 being the Wellington victory margin, but that is what John Fisher can do, they play good sevens and with their physicality and work ethic they make life very uncomfortable for their opponents.
There was always a sense though that Wellington were not going to give this one up. There was a real emotional intensity to their performance, an emotional intensity that burst open when the final whistle blew in a mix of pride, relief, tears, and joy.
Wellington had been perennial Festival winners but last year moved, or were moved, to the Open, where life was expected to get much tougher. Nevertheless the reached the semi finals last year, but you sensed that they were desperate to win this title, to prove themselves to the watching schools community.
There was one special moment long after the game, when having gathered his team after the trophy presentation to congratulate them, Director of Rugby Kevin Brennan just took a moment to himself with the trophy, reading the names his side would be joining as his players drifted away. It is, in fact, something of an exclusive club. This was a triumph of coaching as well as played and he and his coaching staff deserved their moment of joy too.
It is worth sparing a thought for John Fisher, that is two years running now that they have defied the odds to reach the Open final, only to meet a side in each year that has yet to experience the feeling of losing a game of 7s. Their misfortune in those opponents shows us just what a treat we have been given over the last two years though, first by Millfield and now Wellington College.
There are simply not enough plaudits to give this Wellington College team this evening, one suspects that for them the sight of their name on that 76 year-old trophy would be quite enough on its own.
Over in the Plate competition, competed in by those who lost in the mornings Open elimination round games, St Joseph’s College collected the gong, after beating Hampton 19-17 in a final between two sides who could quite easily have been competing in the main side of the draw.
It was an incredibly determined display from St Joseph’s College who had almost defied the odds just to be there. Yesterday, in slightly controversial circumstances, they qualified via the second of the two best runners up spots.
Having then lost to John Fisher in their elimination round game this morning, St Joseph’s found themselves in a group alongside AASE side St Paul’s Catholic College and 2014 Plate Champions Woodhouse Grove.
Woodhouse Grove topped the group, but again St Joseph’s managed to squeak through by finishing up as the best runners up, setting up a semi final again Woodhouse Grove. Grove had beaten them comfortably in the pool and were on course to win again but a late St Joseph’s try gave them a dramatic win to send them into the final against a Hampton side who had been utterly untroubled all day.
St Joseph’s came out firing in the final though, building a strong lead. Hampton did come back though and set up a chance for a draw with an amusing yet effective maul that saw all fourteen men on the pitch by the end, but the conversion from the touchline proved too much.
St Joseph’s deserved their win though, the likes of Ethan Waddleton really shone throughout the two days.
The two girls tournaments also took place today, the Girls Open, and the Girls AASE tournament.
The ASSE tournament had to be slightly altered due to reduced number of teams, turning it into a straight league format. However that did not change too much, with the ever-magnificent Hartpury College taking the title.
Life was not quite as simple as it reads there though, three teams actually finished level on points at the top, winning four and losing one each, but Hartpury claimed it ahead of their 2nd VII and Bishop Burton on points difference.
In the Open tournament things went a bit more according to plan, and we were treated to an all-Welsh final between Amman Valley School and Bro Dinfwr. Amman Valley claimed the title though, running out as the deserved 19-10 winners after an exceptional display all day long.
The final words of the day though must return to Wellington College. This outstanding group of players have been unstoppable all year, and much of the pre tournament talk this week was about them being the strong favourites and how anything other than the title would be ‘blowing it’. That is huge pressure for a group of 6th formers to deal with but they dealt with it brilliantly, and did so playing some superb rugby.
Is has been a pleasure to watch them, and will be a pleasure to do so against at the HSBC World 7s Series London leg at Twickenham in May, where Wellington College and John Fisher will meet again in a re-run of today’s final.
They are truly one of the outstanding school 7s sides on that famous Rosslyn Park pot.
Day 5 Results Summary:
Wellington College 12-7 John Fisher
Hampton 17-19 St Joseph’s College
Open Semi Finals:
Millfield 29-31 Wellington College
John Fisher 29-7 Sherborne
Plate Semi Finals:
Hampton 19-5 Cowbridge
Woodhouse Grove 24-29 St Joseph’s College
Open Quarter Final Pools:
Millfield 43-0 Merchiston Castle
Millfield 21-10 Sir Gar
Merchiston Castle 19-19 Sir Gar
Hartpury College 5-10 Wellington College
Hartpury College 12-29 Sherborne
Wellington College 21-0 Sherborne
Sedbergh 29-15 Cymoedd
Sedbergh 10-29 John Fisher
Cymoedd 5-24 John Fisher
Plate Quarter Final Pools:
St Joseph’s College
St Paul’s CC
Kirkham GS 10-12 Brighton College
Kirkham 10-38 Hampton
Brighton 7-14 Hampton
Bryanston 24-19 London Oratory
Bryanston 19-24 Cowbridge
London Oratory 5-38 Cowbridge
Woodhouse Grove 28-21 St Paul’s CC
Woodhouse Grove 33-12 St Joseph’s College
St Paul’s CC 21-42 St Joseph’s
Open Elimination Round (Group winner of in brackets):
Millfield (A) 24-12 Kirkham Grammar School (B)
Brighton College (C) 5-26 Merchiston Castle (D)
Hampton (E) 19-26 Coleg Sir Gar (F)
Bryanston (G) 7-36 Hartpury College (H)
Wellington College (I) 33-5 London Oratory (J)
Cowbridge (K) 14-35 Sherborne (L)
Sedbergh (M) 22-5 Woodhouse Grove (N)
St Paul’s Catholic College (O) 5-33 Coleg y Cymoedd (P)
John Fisher (RU1) 33-21 St Joseph’s College (RU2)
AASE Group: Hartpury College A
Amman Valley School 19-10 Ysgol Bro Dinefwr
Open Groups (Day 4):
(Each group ordered by finishing positions, 1 to 5)
Kirkham Grammar School
Wallington County Grammar
St Joseph’s College
SGS Filton College
Queen Elizabeth HS
Mount St Mary’s College
Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni
Coleg Sir Gar
Bryanston School 1st VII
St Benedict’s School
Dartford Grammar School
City of London Freemen’s
Ysgol Gyfun Y Preseli
Coleg Gwent Crosskeys College
Worcester 6th form College
Chislehurst & Sidcup GS
USA HS All American, London
Nottingham High School
St Paul’s Catholic College
Coleg y Cymoedd
Peterborough Regional College
Leicester Grammar School
St David’s Catholic College