While Wellington had won eight of their last ten encounters with Tonbridge there is never more than a handful of points between these two great teams and many who were there would argue Wellington were lucky to come out 18-22 winners last year courtesy of a length of the pitch Tom Parton interception try.
This season both teams have struggled to find their best form. Tonbridge had lost their opening game to a very strong Epsom side and had fallen at the first hurdle in the Championâ€™s trophy against St Johnâ€™s, Leatherhead. Last Saturday Wellington had given up a 0-12 lead against Dulwich to concede 27 unanswered points. Both teams had serious questions to answer and with â€˜Bigsideâ€™ bathed in the sunshine the big crowd eagerly awaited some magic.
They only had 30 seconds to wait as Wellingtonâ€™s Ben Loader, playing 15 on his first home appearance for the College having suffered a terrible concussion on tour, showed speed and swerve worthy of the finest NFL running-back to score an end-to-end try. The prospect of more champagne rugby lit up the home supporters but alas that was it for a while.
The ball now remained with the forwards for most of the rest of the half. The Tonbridge pack dominated and eventually scored from a powerful driving maul. Wellington suffered too many turnovers but there was no faulting their commitment in the tackle. Pinned back on their own 10 yard line the ball eventually found its way to winger Olly Kitto who surely has the fastest feet and the meanest step on the schools circuit. He went 80 yards, beating five before perfectly offloading to Rory McMichael in support. 14-7 at half time and everything for both teams to play for.
The second half started with the Tonbridge forwards again calling the shots. Wave after wave of attacking mauls were met by the solid Wellington defence which has become so familiar over the last few seasons. Captain, Jack Ingall was a colossus against the tide but the visitors came very close on several occasions with No8. Ben Earle always in the thick of it.
With ten minutes to go Tonbridge took a penalty to put them within a single score. It was at this point that the tempo of the game seemed to change as did the volume of the ever growing crowd; as the younger age groups finished their matches and made their way to support their the first teams.
Wellington finally won some quality ball for their backs and a succession of driving plays and quick hands got the ball to late arrival Oli Wilson who rounded his man to score in the corner and put the game beyond Tonbridgeâ€™s grasp.
The manner of Wellingtonâ€™s win was far from convincing but the potential is there. Tonbridge may have lost three from four but it is far too early to write them off this season as they showed huge commitment and power and if these two teams met again tomorrow the result would be far from certain.
Full Time: Wellington College 19-10 Tonbridge
By Will Beresford
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