Sedbergh School came back from a five point deficit just after half time with four unanswered tries to defeat Whitgift School in this NatWest U15 Cup quarter-final.
Although these two schools have in recent years established regular fixtures at U18 level, the rarity of seeing the brown shirts of Sedbergh in the South-East of England for a 15 a side fixture still brings an added degree of excitement. That was reinforced by this being the first time in many years that Sedbergh have entered the NatWest Cup or its predecessor competitions.
Whitgift had been building to peak form in recent games with impressive victories over Skinners’ and Brighton in the previous rounds, in which their powerful front five had dominated. Their only defeats last term had been against four top U15 sides, with narrow losses to Warwick, Dulwich and Millfield and only suffering one defeat by a wide margin, back in September, against the impressive and unbeaten Wellington side. Sedbergh had carried all before them against Northern sides, running up some big points totals before being held scoreless in losses to Millfield and Wellington in December.
The Whitgift ground staff had the South Field playing surface looking splendid in the winter sunshine, and a large group of supporters from the home school were on hand to see Whitgift kick off. Despite the rival attraction of the U18 NatWest Cup game against Wilmslow H.S, starting on Bigside during the second half (attracting a massive crowd), they stayed on to ensure that they were not outdone by the equally passionate “Brown Army” supporters who had made the long trip South.
The home side were already without Harlequins Academy wing Charlie Cassar, injured in the Brighton game, and they suffered a further loss of a key player after only a few minutes, when captain Harry Breeze had to leave the field with what appeared to be a wrist injury. Despite this setback, Whitgift enjoyed most of the territorial advantage and possession in the opening quarter. Although a penalty attempt from 30m out by Oscar Bailey drifted just wide, the forwards launched a series of drives close to the Sedbergh line, with the Benz-Salomon twins the main ball carriers. One sensed that a try for Whitgift at this stage would give them critical momentum, but the defence was tremendous and they finally had to settle for three points, with Bailey successful from the tee after fifteen minutes.
Having weathered this period of sustained pressure, Sedbergh were quick to respond. Winning a line-out on half way, the first phase possession put Will Haydon-Wood into space, and the fly half stepped through several tackles to score on the left. Although he was unable to convert his try, the running threat from the visitors was evident. A second try soon followed, excellent handling putting James Magee clear, and the full back showed good pace to score by the posts, Haydon-Wood converting.
Whitgift showed that, even without Cassar, they also had elusive runners, full back Clement Li-Raphael running back a kick from his own half, and the resulting field position giving Bailey the chance to narrow the gap from the tee when Sedbergh were penalised on their 22, but the kick was again just wide. Continued pressure by the Whitgift forwards soon brought a greater reward, however, and scrum half Ben Clarke dived over for his side’s first try, Bailey converting to bring his side back within two points.
Half time: Whitgift School 10-12 Sedbergh School
The second half was only a few minutes old when Whitgift again took the lead, with a score coming from nowhere. An attempted clearance kick by Haydon-Wood was deflected by one of his teammates to Aristot Benz-Salomon and the prop forward showed that he has handling skills and impressive pace as well as power, collecting the ball and sprinting clear of the defence to score under the posts, Bailey converting.
Sedbergh were undeterred by this reversal and stuck to their game plan of getting the ball wide whenever possible. First, Haydon-Wood broke through on the left and offloaded to left wing Harry Hollins who sprinted down the touchline: although he was tackled just short of the line, the rangy winger just managed to stretch for the score, Haydon-Wood converting to put his side two points ahead. Next, Magee combined with Hollins to take play into the left corner and although the winger was forced into touch, from the resulting line-out Haydon-Wood again showed his distribution skills, finding Magee with an accurate pass and the full back scored his second try in the right corner.
With the touchline conversion unsuccessful, Whitgift were still only one score down, but Sedbergh now had the momentum, with Haydon-Wood running the show. He again put Hollins into space, and although the ball was lost forward, the respite was only temporary and Magee completed his hat-trick with another try in the corner. The Sedbergh dominance continued and a beautifully weighted cross-kick from Haydon-Wood found Will Panday in the right corner, the wing collecting the ball and diving over to put Sedbergh three scores clear with time running out.
Even with both sides going to their benches, the pattern of play continued in the final minutes. Sedbergh won a penalty in front of the posts and unsurprisingly elected to run it, but a knock-on on the right saw the referee blow for full time.
Sedbergh go on to meet their perennial rivals Millfield at Allianz Park on 6th Match. Despite the 22-0 score at Street back in December, a tremendous game looks to be in prospect.
Final score: Whitgift School 17-34 Sedbergh School
Schools’ Rugby Correspondent
Whitgift: Jonathan Benz-Salomon, Ben Donnelly, Aristot Benz-Salomon, Matthew Dobson, Sebastian Eyre, Maximilian Greatwood, Oliver Norris, Harry Breeze (Capt), Ben Clark, Ed Dunford, Julius McClymont, Oscar Bailey, Charlie Cadogan (Vice-Capt), Albert Rogers, Clement Li-Raphael
Replacements: Jacob Murray, Isaiah Wellington, Ross Sharpe, Saam Fakhim, Tom Berger, Oliver Berry, William Heaver, Jonathan Lewis, Christopher James, George Platou
Sedbergh: Ben Patchett (Capt), Max Twiddle, George Rigal, Carwyn Tuipulotu, Taran Stewart, Tom Russell, Jake Hill, Harry Hill, Michele Brighetti, Will Haydon-Wood, Hugh Hollins, George Barber, Ryu Fung, Will Panday, James Magee
Replacements: Archie Davies, Chris Park Johnson, Taylor McGuire, Jack Roper, George Hill, Matthew Mitchell, Charlie Scott