When two of the country’s top rugby institutions go head to head, it should be no surprise when they cannot be separated, as was the case as Millfield and Sedbergh played out an 11-11 draw on Wednesday.
Neither side has hit the consistent heights that they have at their absolute best in some previous season, losing more games than they would like this year, yet both have also secured some brilliant wins at various stages, not least last week when Sedbergh beat Wellington College at Broadstreet RFC and Millfield travelled to Whitgift and won convincingly.
This was like so many brilliant games between these two though, tough, skillful, close, and with a raucous atmosphere on the touchlines all adding to the drama, excitement, and fun of the whole occasion.
Perhaps the only surprising thing was that this was a game in which place kicking became the key, as penalties from Millfield’s Andrew Nurse and Sedbergh’s outstanding Ali Crossdale landed key kicks at goal as the game was settled as a draw. These are two sides whom we have seen spurn kickable penalties in favour of running the ball many times, all part of their admirable running rugby and development philosophies, yet today points had to take priority, it was that close.
That natural instinct to run was still on show though, with just under five minutes to go Sedbergh were awarded a penalty under the posts, 11-8 behind. Instinctively they wanted to run, and only loud instruction from the sidelines and a hurried on field call managed to temper that instinct and get the tee on in the nick of the time. It was just as well, Crossdale landed the penalty and with it levelled the match at 11-11, as it would remain.
It was Crossdale’s second penalty of the half, matching Andrew Nurse’s two first half efforts.
In response to Nurse’s two first half penalties, Sedbergh had managed to rumble over for a crucial try though. Returning skipper Hayden Thompson-Green, back in the fold after missing Sedbergh’s last game through injury, blasted over the line.
He was playing in a reshuffled back row due to injuries, with star second row Max Davies playing at number 8 and Thompson-Green sliding from his usual 8 slot to the blindside flank.
His try was crucial though as it went on to ensure that when the half time whistle went, Sedbergh were just a point behind at 6-5.
(Video: Millfield v Sedbergh – Full Game. Via Millfield Sport)
Millfield came out stronger in the second half and looked the more likely to build on their narrow lead, the wind had dropped and the game was opening up a touch more.
It was Sedbergh who grasped the first points of the half though, bisecting the uprights comfortably from a long range penalty to put his side 8-6 ahead.
A difficult penalty chances was then just pushed wide by Nurse, but Millfield kept the pressure on, using a strong maul to put pressure on the Sedbergh line, drawing a yellow card.
Going to the corner again, Millfield once more speared towards the line, but an infringement forced the referee to give a scrum.
It was to prove a fruitful call from Millfield’s point of view as scrum half, and captain on the day, Josh Barton, capitalised on some confusion at the base of the scrum to pick up the ball, shrug off a would-be tackler, and wriggle his way over for what felt like a crucial score.
It was just a three point lead, and the tension could be felt increasingly around the ground, and only increased as both Crossdale and Nurse then just missed a penalty each.
As the game edged into that final five minutes, there was a sense that perhaps Millfield might cling on. However Sedbergh were not about to go home empty handed, they had done too much for that, performed too well to lose, and then found that ability that all top sides have, the ability to find their cohesion again as the game is at its most tense.
They started to build wave upon wave of attack, slowly working their way into the Millfield 22 before securing that vital late penalty for Crossdale to level the game.
Few could deny that it was not deserved though, it had been an even game between two tough teams, for either side to lose in such tense circumstances would have felt unjust.
It was, in summary just brilliant drama, and if this season is to prove like other seasons, we will not have to wait long for the next meeting between these two great rugby schools, for they will surely clash on the sevens circuit come Rosslyn Park time.
It ought to be special, it always is.
Full Time: Millfield 11-11 Sedbergh
A few photos from the game can be seen in our Gallery: Millfield v Sedbergh Gallery.
1 Alex Tiarks, 2 Harry Vigar, 3 Sam Buckley, 4 James Dun, 5 James Marlow, 6 Oliver Dawe-Lane, 7 Edoardo Cristiani, 8 George Brophy, 9 Josh Barton (c), 10 Andrew Nurse, 11 Nathan Thomas, 12 Joss Mama, 13 Henry Carling-Parkinson, 14 Connor Burns, 15 Tom Horton.
Replacements: 16 Alastair Crossley, 17 Tom Wood, 18 Sonny Elias, 19 Harry Close, 20 Gabriel Oghre, 21 Rhys Davies, 22 Joe Sargeant.
1 John Willingham-Statham, 2 Edward Irons, 3 George Bentley, 4 Jack Bonham, 5 William Hill, 6 Hayden Thompson-Green (c), 7 Jack Hutchinson, 8 Maxwell Davies, 9 Charlie Gowling, 10 Alistair Crossdale, 11 Jonathan Keh, 12 Ben Watson, 13 Nathan Wyman, 14 William Lewin, 15 George Phelan.
Replacements: 16 George Martin, 17 Kyle Kitney, 18 Michael Lavery.