Northampton School for Boys reached the U18 NatWest Vase Final by the slimmest of margins after a draw against Bloxham at Allianz Park in the semi final.
The game finished in a 20-20 draw, with the try count level, meaning that the winner would be the side who scored the first try of the game, which was Northampton School for Boys.
It was a cruel end for Bloxham, who gave everything in coming from behind twice. With the last play of the game they scored a try through full back George Grieve, leveling the game at 20-20, but with the conversion just not quite having the right line, that was how the game finished, sending Northampton School for Boys through in a rather muted background as the crowds tried to work out who actually was going through and just what the regulation was.
Northampton School for Boys were excellent though, with their inside centre Jake Johnson the leading force in the game. Playing like a genuine ‘second five-eighth’, Johnson kicked, passed, and carried, and also bagged two crucial tries.
Indeed Johnson’s first was the decisive score, for it was the first of the game, coming after fifteen minutes after Manning had put Bloxham 3-0 ahed with a penalty. Northampton School for Boys were under early pressure but grew into the game to create Johnson’s score.
They stayed on top for the remainder of the half, and with just a couple of minutes to go until the break, they crossed the whitewash again, this time through loosehead Jake Diggin.
Pumping the ball into the corner, Northampton School for Boys secured the lineout and set up a powerful maul. Showing great patience they drove towards the line for Diggin to surge over, giving them a 12-3 lead going into the break.
With that sort of scoreline, the next try was crucial, it was either going to really tighten the game up or give Northampton School for Boys a big lead.
We did not have to wait long to find out, within just two minutes Bloxham were on the scoresheet as George Cassell tore down the left wing to create pressure on the Northampton defence.
Pushing and probing, Northampton edged closer and closer before Finn Dunleavy came within inches, allowing loosehead Toby Chapman to crash over from short range, narrowing the scores to 12-8.
Shortly after, Bloxham took the lead through a superb try from captain and fly half Jake Briggs, who collected a high up and under from Jake Manning to race away towards the try line virtually unopposed. Within fifteen minutes 12-3 had turned to 12-15 and the momentum was entirely in Bloxham’s favour.
It was a real test of character now for Northampton School for Boys, but within five minutes they bared their teeth, with Jake Johnson, who else, going over from short range after some heavy pressure from his side stretched the Bloxham defence.
They game looked sealed when three minutes from time Thomas Holliday landed a penalty to take Northampton’s lead out to 20-15, and when Bloxham’s Will Beament saw yellow from the restart, it really did feel like it was game, set, and, match.
So it was, in a way, but not before the drama of Grieve’s try for Bloxham, and the sudden diving into the depths of the rulebook.
It was a tough way for Bloxham to go out, but on balance it would be hard to say that Northampton School for Boys do not deserve their place, some of their rugby was simply outstanding at times, while in Johnson they truly did have the outstanding player.
They now head to Twickenham, where they will look to go one better than in 2013, where they lost the U18 Cup final to a rampant Dulwich College.
With lady luck smiling on them, who would bet against them avenging that in a few weeks time?
Full Time: Northampton School for Boys 20-20 Bloxham
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Northampton School for Boys
15 Henry Timm, 14 Christian Morgan, 13 Joshua Arimoro, 12 Jake Johnson, 11 Christian Barry, 10 Thomas Holliday, 9 Connor Tupai, 1 Jake Diggin, 2 Mattias Farmer (c), 3 Alex Pittaway, 4 Toby Stanton, 5 Thomas Rowlatt, 6 William Salt, 7 Callum Inwood, 8 Joseph Britton.
Replacements: 16 Alexander Barlow-Doran, 17 Thomas Robinson, 18 Oliver Clarke, 19 Jack Wilkins, 20 Henry Dunn, 21 Samuel Pinnock-Attfield, 22 Conor McCabe.
15 George Grieve, 14 George Cassell, 13 George Morley, 12 Jake Manning, 11 Finn Dunleavy, 10 Jack Briggs (c), 9 George Barbeary, 1 Toby Chapman, 2 George Ding, 3 Will Beament, 4 Nick Von Sydow, 5 Jack Robotham, 6 Ollie Kilgallon, 7 Will Brown, 8 Charlie Mallock.
Replacements: 16 Fergus Dunleavy, 17 Sam Jeyes, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Fraser Smith, 20 Tarquin Hathaway, 21 Jonty Russell-Rayment.