The physical presence of the Whitgift School forwards was decisive in helping their side to a 36-5 away win over Skinners’ School in Round 6 of the NatWest Schools U15 Cup, London & South-East B Group.
This marked the third occasion in the past five years when these two schools have met at Skinners’ Chestnut Avenue ground in the latter group stages of the U15 Cup. With its sloping pitches and often muddy playing surface this can be a tricky place to visit, but the South Croydon side came well equipped to deal with an attritional battle if required. Indeed, with the Whitgift front row including the formidable Benz-Salomon twins, Aristot and Jonathan (both members of the Junior EPDG squad at Harlequins, whose Assistant Academy Coach Jim Evans was on the touchline) it was always likely that it would be the home side which would be looking to play some open rugby.
Skinners’, with the advantage of the slope but facing a stiff breeze, got off to a dream start. Inside centre Alexander Nicholds showed tremendous pace to break down the right touchline from inside his own half, before offloading to his centre partner Luca Tonelli who ran in from the 22 to give the Kent school a 5-0 lead after only a couple of minutes.
Despite finding themselves behind, the Whitgift forward pack soon established what was to be a consistent pattern of play: with possession recycled, hooker Aristot Benz-Salomon showed that he possesses good handling skills as well as the ability to break tackles. The Skinners’ defence did well to repel the first two incursions inside their 5m line, but the respite was temporary and eventually Whitgift were able to set up a maul which drove across the line, second row Matthew Dobson claiming the try to level the scores at 5-5.
More pressure inside the Skinners’ 22 followed, with Aristot Benz-Salomon again the main ball carrier, but dogged defence forced a penalty on the 2m line and a clearance kick by full back George Spice took play back outside the 22. Whitgift now turned to their backs, right wing Charlie Cassar (also part of the Quins development set-up) cut inside and into the 22 where quick ball saw blind side flanker Max Greatwood score by the posts, centre Charlie Cadogan converting.
Having taken the lead, Whitgift looked to make the most of the wind advantage before the interval. Although Aristot Benz-Salomon was stopped and penalised 1m out, he was not to be denied and soon forced his way over for a try in the left corner. There was just time for loose head prop Sebastian Eyre, who had been just as impressive as his better known front row colleagues, to claim a fourth Whitgift try.
Half time: Skinners’ School 5-22 Whitgift School
With the wind at their backs, Skinners’ started the second half with some decent field position, moving the ball though the hands, but they were unable to add to their score, and normal service was soon resumed, the Whitgift forwards driving downfield. This time it was the turn of tight head prop Jonathan Benz-Salomon to get on the scoreboard with a try by the posts, Cadogan converting.
The Whitgift forward pack still had an appetite for more points, and further pressure led to a sixth try, scored under the posts by open side flanker Oliver Norris, with Cadogan again successful from the tee. The home side strove for a consolation score, with Nicholds looking the most likely to break the defensive line and coming close to creating overlaps for William Bone on the left. The last of these looked as if it might produce a try, but referee Phil Bowyer had spotted an incipient scuffle among the forwards and play was called back.
Whitgift move on to face the winners of the game between St Paul’s School and Brighton College, which is not due to be played until after Christmas. With their powerful forward pack and having only lost this term to the still unbeaten Wellington side, to Dulwich (who have only lost to Wellington), to Warwick and to Millfield (the last three by a single score), they will be formidable opponents.
Full time: Skinners’ School 5-36 Whitgift School
Skinners’ School U15: Herb Hopgood; Ben Chapman (Capt), Tod Skinner; Charles Macdonald-Gay (Vice-Capt); Gregory Davies Webb; Robert Chattell; Joshua Martin; Oliver Daniels; Isaac Jones; Zachary Brockman; William Bone; Alexander Nicholds; Luca Tonelli; David Fullbrook; George Spice
Replacements: Elliot Follows; Adam Kayyali; Harry Green; Albert Fones; Thomas Graham; Joel Goddard; Lucas Scully
Whitgift School U15: Sebastian Eyre; Aristot Benz-Salomon; Jonathan Benz-Salomon; Ross Sharpe; Matthew Dobson; Maximilian Greatwood; Oliver Norris; Harry Breeze (Capt); Ben Clark; Oliver Berry; Julius McClymont; Oscar Bailey; Charlie Cadogan (Vice-Capt); Charlie Cassar; Clement Li-Raphael
Replacements: Jacob Murray; Isaiah Wellington; Nathaniel Akano; Albert Rogers; George Platou; Christopher James; William Heaver; Connor McGrath