Tonbridge School eventually found a way through the Dulwich College defence to clinch an 18-7 win, despite conceding a penalty try on the stroke of half time and having to face the elements after the interval
As December approaches and one-term Rugby schools near the end of their 15 a side seasons, emotions run high with players facing their final home games. For Tonbridge, captain Ben Earl and full back Joe Turner were reaching that milestone after three seasons in the 1st XV and playing over 50 games between them in that time. It was also the last visit to Tonbridge for Sam Howard as Master in Charge of Rugby at Dulwich before his move to Eltham College after Christmas, and the final home game for Tonbridge coach James Johnson watched by a good group of Tonbridge alumni.
Both schools have had mixed results this term, like most others on the main London & South-East schools’ circuit, with the notable exception of Bedford School, with Dulwich defeating Wellington and Hampton but losing to Harrow and Whitgift, while Tonbridge had chalked up wins against Harrow and Cranleigh but lost to Wellington and Epsom. So, a close contest seemed in prospect, as had been the case in the Dulwich wins in the past four years’ encounters.
It was a dark November afternoon with sporadic showers carried by the strong south-westerly wind, and Tonbridge had the elements at their backs as they kicked off up the slope. Their territorial advantage soon led to the first score, fly half David Wilkinson successful from the tee with a penalty from inside the 22.The home side maintained the pressure after the restart, prompted by the kicking game of scrum half Tom Cantlay, but resolute Dulwich defence and handling errors in the difficult conditions frustrated their scoring attempts, despite already looking dominant in the set scrums.
Tonbridge continued to press, second rows Harry Tyler and George Wheadon getting round the corner of rucks to make some yards and Earl breaking off the back of a lineout. Gradually play was taken inside the Dulwich 5m line but still the defence held, and Tonbridge, with only a couple of minutes to go until the interval, had to be content with a second Wilkinson penalty.
The personnel may have changed but the Simon Thomas coached Dulwich maul is still a hugely effective weapon, and no doubt the Tonbridge coaches had been reminding their players all week not to give opportunities for it to be deployed. They will have groaned when a Dulwich player was taken out at the restart and fly half Ralph Marchant kicked the resulting penalty to set up a line-out on the Tonbridge 22. With the line-out won and the ball at the back, the maul began its gradual but inexorable progress towards the Tonbridge line. The defence worked hard to stop it, but their efforts were adjudged to be illegal and when the maul was eventually taken down less than 10m out, referee Simon Goatcher’s patience was exhausted and he had no hesitation in running under the posts to award the penalty try. Having been under severe pressure throughout most of the half, Dulwich had again displayed their game management skills and led by a point with the wind advantage to come.
Half time: Tonbridge School 6-7 Dulwich College
The Tonbridge supporters’ “choir” did their best to raise their side’s spirits with a rendition of the “Libera me domine” from Fauré’s Requiem, showing Dulwich that their “Pueri Alleynienses” is not the only song that can be sung on the touchline to Latin words. Despite that, the visitors began the second half strongly, winning another penalty at the restart. Although they were unable to capitalise on this occasion, they kept play in the Tonbridge half, right wing Chris Annous displaying his elusive running. With scrum half Alec Bannister orchestrating proceedings, possession was recycled and play switched wide: there was the chance of an overlap but a grubber kick went just the wrong side of the corner flag, and Tonbridge cleared from the drop-out.
There followed a lengthy injury stoppage after a big hit in midfield on Dulwich second row Theo Schlossman. While every precaution was evidently being taken while the injured player was stretchered off, the teams did their best to keep warm in the bitterly cold wind. Another tremendous break by Annous took play deep into the Tonbridge 22, and although a cross-kick to the left corner failed to find its target, advantage was being played and another line-out set up in the right corner. This time Tonbridge were able to defend the maul successfully and were finally able to break out, Earl linking with left wing Tom Cantlay.
The power of the Tonbridge forward pack started to reassert itself and possession was retained through several phases as they drove to the Dulwich 22, where inside centre Angus Horne finally found a way though the defence, taking an excellent line and just outpacing the cover to score under the posts, Wilkinson converting. Dulwich had evidently been conscious of the attacking threat posed by Earl and double teamed him, but the former England U16 captain finally began to find some space with two trademark carries, almost breaking through on the second of these.
Darkness gathering, Dulwich’s task became even tougher when Mr Goatcher showed Yellow to replacement prop Odi Oladuji, and Tonbridge gained an attacking line-out on the 22. Although the ball was knocked forward, the depleted numbers at the set scrum left Bannister exposed and Tonbridge were able to recover, winning another penalty. With the line-out won on the 5m line, it was now their turn to show off their mauling skills, with replacement Adam Petry the ball carrier at the back and he duly secured the decisive score. Wilkinson’s conversion attempt from out wide drifted just wide.
With time running out, Dulwich worked hard to get back within one score, looking to launch their speedy backs at every opportunity, Annous and full back Cam Gleave looking particularly dangerous with ball in hand. However the Tonbridge defence held out and jubilantly greeted the final whistle, which brought to an end a game of great intensity between two very well organised sides.
With, for the first time in five years no Cup games to look forward to after Christmas, Dulwich visit Epsom College for their usual regular season final fixture. Tonbridge, having played their traditional end of season opponents Wellington back in September, travel to Eton to complete their season.
Full time: Tonbridge School 18-7 Dulwich College
Photos of the game can be seen in our weekend gallery: Weekend Gallery, 28/11/15
Tonbridge School: George Salter, James Gibson, George Head, Harry Tyler, George Wheadon, Nico Lykiardopoulos, Ollie Hayes, Ben Earl (Capt.), Tom Cantlay, David Wilkinson, Ben Devaney, Angus Horne, Charlie Spawforth, Kieran Thomas, Joe Turner
Replacements: Adam Petry, Marcus O’Riordan, Drew Dainton
Dulwich College: Jem Manning, Richard De Rome, Zac Fox, Theo Schlossman, Finn Hanrahan, Charlie Dee (Capt.), Rohan Mistry, Ben Osuntokun, Alec Bannister, Ralph Marchant, Amir Nasir, Michael Bacon, Huw Roberts, Chris Annous, Cameron Gleave
Replacements: Charlie Musgrave, Odi Oladuji, Jack McDonald