Sedbergh School clinched a 20-18 victory over Wellington College with a converted try in the dying minutes, having trailed by two scores deep into the second half.
This fixture, under lights on neutral ground, has in recent years set a benchmark for quality and excitement as a classic North vs. South match-up between two perennial schools rugby powerhouses. This year’s game did not disappoint, with the lead changing several times. Sedbergh’s involvement for the first time in the RFU’s Schools Champions Trophy (with the final also scheduled for 25th November) had left a question mark over their participation, with Kirkham G.S. potential replacements, but their narrow loss to Bedford (winners at Allianz Park earlier in the day) had enabled the match to be confirmed.
Wellington were able to bring back into their side scrum half Rory Brand and centre Matt Williams, both of whom had missed the previous week’s win over Cranleigh, and so started at close to full strength. Sedbergh however were still without their injured two key back row players, James Botham and Captain Hayden Thompson Green, who had been forced to leave the field in the latter stages of the Bedford game. With “the Brown army” of supporters having had to endure an almost unprecedented three consecutive defeats – to Kirkham and Warwick as well as Bedford – the pressure was on.
Many schools’ 1st XV coaches would be satisfied with the quality of the teams playing the curtain raiser game between the schools’ 2nd XVs. With only a few minutes left the outcome was in doubt, with the unbeaten Wellington team leading 13-7 and Sedbergh pressing. However, an interception gave Wellington the opportunity to score under the posts and a penalty on the final play of the game gave them a 23-7 victory. They face St Paul’s and Marlborough in their final two games, seeking to maintain their 100% record.
The 1st XV game followed immediately, a full moon adding its light to that of the Broadstreet floodlights. Wellington kicked off and enjoyed the lion’s share of the early possession and territory, but had to content themselves with three points from a 30m penalty by full back Dylan Moss. Sedbergh were quick to respond, their outstanding fly half Alistair Crossdale breaking on midfield and linking with right wing Will Lewin to take play to the Wellington 22. From the ensuing scrum, Crossdale worked the short side, drawing the defence and timing his pass beautifully to put Lewin in at the corner, Crossdale’s touchline conversion attempt was well struck but just fell short.
After Wellington had done an effective job at preventing Sedbergh’s exit from the restart, they looked to have created a scoring opportunity with a lineout in the right corner, but were penalised and Sedbergh cleared. Successive penalties against Wellington at the breakdown enabled Sedbergh to gain field position and they were able to release their muscular left wing Jonny Keh, who broke through the line and just outpaced the cover defence to stretch and score in the corner to open up a 10-3 lead.
Waves of further Sedbergh attacks followed, first through the silky running of full back George Phelan and then with hard yards made by tight head prop George Martin. When a penalty was kicked into the left corner by Crossdale and the lineout won, a third, and probably decisive, Sedbergh try seemed likely as the ensuing maul drove to the line, but Wellington somehow managed to get bodies under the ball. Although Sedbergh won the attacking scrum and infringement allowed Wellington to clear.
At last Wellington were able to break out of defence through Williams. Good hands saw play taken into the Sedbergh half and a penalty was kicked to the left corner, giving them the chance to display their own mauling skills. Unfortunately the throw to the lineout was ruled not to be straight. With territorial advantage retained in the closing minutes of the half, Moss had the chance to narrow the gap with another penalty but his kick drifted wide.
Half time: Sedbergh School 10-3 Wellington College
The game was turned on its head after the interval by two tries in quick succession from Wellington wing Oliver Kitto. First, Williams made an excellent line break on half way, before offloading to Kitto who scored under the posts. Moss’s conversion just cleared the bar to level the scores. Moments later, an interception by Wellington’s athletic second row John Okafor allowed quick ball from a ruck on the Sedbergh 22, from which an accurate cross-kick to the right corner picked out Kitto. Suddenly Wellington were ahead 10-15.
Sedbergh came close to levelling the scores again from a lineout in the left corner, but the ensuing maul was well defended by Wellington. A lengthy break in play followed, with an injury to Okafor who was forced to leave the field, replaced by Matt Frost. Having already lost starting hooker Callum Tilleray, some reorganisation of the forward pack was required, but the revised formation saw early success, with turnover ball won and the forwards driving to the Sedbergh 22, where a penalty was won. Moss made no mistake from the tee to put his side two scores ahead at 10-18.
With the next score likely to be critical, both sides struggled for clean possession, but Sedbergh, with Harry Laidler on for Charlie Gowling at scrum half, capitalised on a Wellington kick going straight out. Powerful counter-rucking saw them win a penalty on the Wellington 22 and Crossdale’s kick brought them back to within five points. Wellington looked determined to re-establish their lead and seemed to be controlling the game with further good work by the forward pack, winning two kickable penalties which would probably have secured the result. Unfortunately both of the resulting kicks from the tee went wide and this seemed to energise Sedbergh for a final push.
Good recycling of possession took play back into the Wellington half and it was now the turn of the Sedbergh forwards to pick and drive up to the 22, where the defence was forced to concede a penalty. This looked to be within Crossdale’s range, but with less than five minutes to go, the decision to kick to the right corner was clearly the right one. With the line-out won, the maul was duly set up: Wellington managed to stop the first drive, but the maul was reset twice and finally second row Jack Bonham managed to get the ball down to level the scores. The successive mauls had taken play closer to the posts and Crossdale showed a cool head to slot the conversion.
Wellington worked hard to create a scoring opportunity in the remaining couple of minutes, but Sedbergh held on to secure what had fifteen minutes earlier looked an improbable but in the event deserved victory. They now look forward to their traditional December Odyssey to the South-West, with games at Millfield next Wednesday, and, for the younger age groups, at Wellington the following day. Both of those days are always splendid festivals of school sport (also involving Girls’ hockey and netball), and the U15 match-up (with both Sedbergh and Wellington unbeaten at that level) at Crowthorne next Thursday looks a particularly thrilling prospect.
Full time: Sedbergh School 20-18 Wellington College
Sedbergh School: John Statham, Ed Irons, George Martin, Jack Bonham, Will Hill, George Bentley, Jack Hutchinson, Max Davies, Charlie Gowling, Alistair Crossdale, Jonny Keh, Ben Watson, Nathan Wyman, Will Lewin, George Phelan
Replacements: Alfie Blackhall, Kyle Kitney, Harry Laidler
Wellington College: Oscar Boe, Callum Tilleray, Muhammad Mazan, John Okafor, Louis Edmondes, Charlie Jupp, Jack Ingall (Capt.), Isaac Curtis-Harris, Rory Brand, Tom Parton, Oliver Kitto, Rory McMichael, Matthew Williams, Jacob Webb, Dylan Moss
Replacements: Oliver Parsons, Anthony Morris, Fitz Harding, Matt Frost