QEGS Wakefield soared into the U18 NatWest Cup final with a brilliant win over old Cup rivals Warwick at Allianz Park.
A clinical performance gave the Yorkshire side a 21-12 victory, and takes them to Twickenham Stadium for the final on the 16th March.
It will feel like sweet revenge for this particular group of QEGS players, in 2013 and 2014 they faced this same group of Warwick at U15 level in the U15 NatWest Cup final and lost both times. Clearly there was a huge determination on their part to settle that particular score here at U18 level, and it showed right the way through this match, QEGS looked passionate, physical, and very clinical.
For Warwick it was oh so close, as the second half wore on, QEGS pulled away, but up to that point it had been more even than the scoreboard was reflecting, the Midlands side were just finding their final pass not quite being sharp enough. Small margins.
It was a pretty sedate opening quarter of the game as both sides seemed to be sizing each other up somewhat. Few opportunities presented themselves, but despite that, it was clear that this was a step up in intensity from the two Vase finals that had been played on the same turf prior to this game.
On the eighteen minute mark though, that changed as QEGS got the chance to set up the notorious and powerful driving maul off the tail of an attacking lineout. They surged from the 22 right to the try line, where Nathan Youngs was able to flop over and give his side a 5-0 lead.
Fly half Tom Stephenson, excellent throughout alongside his scrum half Sam Tovey, missed his conversion, but popped up ten minutes later to land a key penalty for his side, putting them 8-0 ahead, a lead that would carry through to half time break.
It had been a highly controlled half from QEGS, who looked like a side who had their game plan imprinted on them. Nothing that Warwick were going to throw at them was going to make them deviate from what they were trying to do, and their superb half backs were key to that, along with a back row whose ball carrying was crucial.
An eight point lead was hardly seismic though, and Warwick proved just that after ten minutes of play in the second half with a brilliant William Roberts try. Warwick had a scrum on the left hand side of their own 22. Moving the ball from left to right they surged down the right hand touchline with brilliant interplay before releasing Roberts to streak down the line, narrowing the gap to 8-5.
That brought both sides into a much tighter game, as suddenly the game felt much more on the line, and from there very few opportunities presented themselves for the next ten minutes or so.
QEGS still had that maul to fall back on though, and they used it brilliantly to work perhaps the crucial score of the back with fifteen minutes left to play. Setting up off the base of a scrum outside the Warwick 22, they worked their way forward, inch by inch, towards the Warwick 5 metre line. As the momentum slowed, Tovey released his backs, who moved the ball wide for Joe Gatus to finish expertly in the right hand corner.
From there it felt like the time was ticking ever faster for Warwick, and it was soon surely feeling like light speed where QEGS’ full back George Thompson capitalised on some heavy pressure to go crashing over, taking the lead to 18-5 with just five minutes left.
It was truly clinical play, only bettered when two minutes later QEGS secured a penalty for Stephenson to make the lead 21-5, but perhaps more importantly at this stage, using his full 90 seconds to do so.
Warwick’s quality was never going to allow them to go out with a wimper though, for now they surely were out. No, they were going to fight to the end, and so they did through one of their star performers in those U15 days, Jordan Ainslie, who dotted down with barley a minute left, captain Will Stride converted to leave the final score at 12-21.
It was an excellent display from QEGS who had the look of a side who simply believed that they were going to get the job done, it was thoroughly clinical and professional. Their half back, back row, and especially Elliot Ward in the second row were outstanding and will certainly pose a huge threat at Twickenham on 16th March in the final.
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15 William Stride (c), 14 Barney Sampson, 13 Jordan Ainslie, 12 William Roberts, 11 Alex Lillie, 10 Joshua Grimes, 9 Jamie Walker, 1 Tristan Brooker, 2 Cameron Dee, 3 Nick Rigby, 4 Oliver Richardson, 5 Oliver Thorneywork, 6 Ben Scoular, 7 Joe Hill, 8 Tom Dodd.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hazelton, 17 Kyriakos Grammatopoulos, 18 Sam Forster, 19 Thomas Fawcett, 20 Fergus Wood, 21 Theo Spencer, 22 Nick David.
15 George Thompson, 14 Joe Gatus, 13 Connor Field, 12 Tom Allott (c), 11 Seb Wood, 10 Tom Stephenson, 9 Sam Tovey, 1 Nathan Youngs, 2 Jack Levine, 3 Jacob Glover, 4 Tom Kay, 5 Elliot Ward, 6 Harry Watts, 7 Joe Selim, 8 Harry Clarke.
Replacements: 16 Harvey Farrar, 17 Bradley Young, 18 Edan Kelly, 19 Finaly Wotton, 20 Alex Armstrong, 21 Harry Graham, 22 Henry Longhurst.