The Champions Trophy is only a year old, and yet it already seems like an institution in schools rugby.
Already we are used to seeing sides really peak for these games and produce top performances, as Haileybury did today in their 33-17 victory over Stamford.
The evidence of seasons past suggested that Stamford would have the running of this game, and yet there was a sense, even before it emerged that Stamford were missing a few stars, that Haileybury have some real quality and momentum behind them this season. Having two Rugby World Cup teams, Argentina and the USA, using your school as a training base at various times will certainly help that, as will having a British and Irish Lion and Welsh Grand Slam winner as a coach.
Even so, Haileybury must have had their worries coming into this one, their star player, England U18 second row Nick Isiekwe, was injured. However his teammates filled that void brilliantly, soaring to a 21-5 lead at the break, before pulling away to a 33-17 victory that was narrowed only by a late Stamford rally.
Tries from Oliver Cummins and Kayode Ariyo put the home side 14-0, with extras from the delightful fly half Iwan Dawes. Dawes then made it 21-0 with a virtuoso score of his own, which of course he converted.
The tries took time, the game was scoreless until the twenty-minute mark, but once they came Haileybury really began to fire, looking smooth in attack and utterly ruthless in defence. That defensive effort had a real shining example in substitute Harry Collins. The young centre came on for the injured Xavier Graham and, despite being just fifteen, he slotted in on a level right at the top end of this game. It was superb stuff to watch such a young man chopping what was a huge Stamford side down.
Stamford’s power did start to shine through, some strong play five minutes short of the half bringing them five points of their own, setting them up nicely at the break. However Haileybury replied fast after half time, with outside centre Ollie Heazel seizing on a loose kick to return it under the posts from inside his own half. It was a mesmerising score, which Dawes once again converted.
Heazel was at it again minutes later, though had an interception from his openside Josh Stibbs to thank for it. The interception came from what had been a hallmark of the Haileybury game though, fast and aggressive linespeed.
That linespeed only really seemed to drop following that score, which had put them 33-5 up. Perhaps it was a touch of complacency; perhaps a bit of tiredness, or perhaps it was that Stamford are a proud rugby side, with an abundance of quality, power, and intelligence. Certainly all of those aspects were on show for the remainder of the game as Stamford began running everything at Haileybury and scored two late tries to give the score an altogether more respectable total of 33-17 in Haileybury’s favour.
It was too little too late for the away side though, this was Haileybury’s day and a well deserved one it was too. Whoever they meet in the next round will not much fancy facing this outfit who really do look like a side inspired by the 2015 Rugby World Cup buzz that surrounds their school at the moment. With buzzing halfbacks like McCall and Dawes, and excellent outside runners such as Walker and Ariyo, they are a side that can hit you from all angles.
The Champions Trophy is off with a bang. We should all have expected nothing less.
Full Time: Haileybury 33-17 Stamford
Photos of the game can be seen at www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby
By Angus Savage