In Sherborne’s 27-24 victory over Marlborough College, the feeling was confirmed; there is something very, very special about the Champions Trophy.
Game after game, week after week, round after round, it keeps on producing matches that take your breath away. Something about this tournament seems to bring out the most exciting of performances.
That was certainly the case at Marlborough College this afternoon, where they hosted Sherborne in the final first round game of the tournament.
As a result, that meant that both sides knew the prize at stake, as the second round draw was made on Monday, a home tie against St John’s Leatherhead, conquerors of Tonbridge.
A strong wind perhaps tipped that balance in favour of Sherborne in the first half, though in truth it was their outstanding 10, 12, 13 midfield axis that was the real difference.
Even so, a 27-5 lead at the break seemed truly extraordinary. Notwithstanding the mild wind factor, the feeling on the touchline was that from that platform, Sherborne could go on to most a big score and make a real statement in this competition. Their backline was firing as well as any this writer has seen so far this season, while their forward pack were also making a nuisance of themselves, with number 8 Zach Smith proving a particular handful. His ability to create choke tackle scenarios and turn over the ball was proving vital.
How then did such a commanding lead turn into such a near run thing?
Well, it started with some improved Marlborough College play. They began looking for the offload. All the time. It proved a successful tactic as they began to make ground, scoring a good try early on.
What then followed came down to the top two inches as much as anything else. Marlborough suddenly began to believe, while Sherborne began to feel the pressure. As so often in sport, what is happening up top can count for so much more than anything else at times.
That shift came as Marlborough intercepted and raced away to score under the sticks. What had been 27-5 was all of a sudden 27-19 and Marlborough had their tails up.
Discipline then started to become an issue, for both sides in fairness, and Sherborne saw a man sent to the bin. Still they seemed perhaps the more likely though, they were on the attack and the pressure was coming on.
Out came Marlborough’s moment of inspiration though, they sprung a turnover and shifted the ball to their outside half who clattered the ball from his own five metre line to the opposition’s, before offloading for his winger for the simplest of finishes.
Marlborough were a penalty away from levelling the game now, 24-27 behind. IN all honesty, at that moment, despite Sherborne having largely been the better side, it felt almost inevitable that Marlborough would win.
That they did not was a testament to the maturity and class of Sherborne. They played smart, tightening their play, being clinical at the breakdown, and most important of all – keeping the ball in the Marlborough half.
They had shown outstanding skill and adventure in the first half, but in these closing stages they showed admirable composure.
St John’s will know that they face a tricky opponent next week. Sherborne’s backline is dangerous, and their pack dogged. Then again, in dealing with Tonbridge last week, St John’s proved they are a tricky side themselves.
Another outstanding game of rugby awaits, as ever in this tournament.
Hats of to Sherborne, they were truly excellent in that first half. But praise too for Marlborough, who nearly pulled off one of the great comebacks.
Full Time: Marlborough College 24-27 Sherborne
You can see photos from the game in our Gallery, where there are links to even more photos!