Wellington finally ended their NatWest Schools Cup losing streak with an impressive win in a highly competitive and brutally physical encounter at Allianz Park, winning 7-3 against Warwick.
Having witnessed the previous three years’ epic encounters between these two teams in the latter stages of the Schools Cup, today’s match was always going to be extremely tight. In 2013 Wellington had led for 69 minutes before the arrival of the huge partisan support (and the snow) propelled Warwick to a last minute 18-17 win. In 2014 that same crowd were in full voice and outnumbered Wellington’s supporters 50:1 when the last time the teams met at Allianz. Then Wellington were caught cold and never recovered from going 12-0 down in the first four minutes and, despite dominating the rest of the game, only once made it over the line to lose 12-8. Last year’s quarter final finished 10-14 in favour of Warwick. The match was close but Warwick controlled it brilliantly.
I am not sure quite what it is about the Schools Cup that raises Warwick’s form way beyond what should be possible, but it works every year and 2016 is no exception. The Warwick U15s have had a ‘good’ season by anyone’s standards but have lost four times including two defeats (to Sedbergh and Dulwich College) by 30 points. Wellington remain unbeaten in the UK including big wins over both of the other Semi-finalists (The Brown and Millfield). Interestingly this year, Wellington had followed Warwick’s initiative the last time they won the coveted Cup and headed across the Irish sea for a ‘friendly’ against Blackrock College. As per the year before, the Visitors were treated to a tough, but undoubtedly valuable, lesson.
Thankfully by the time the match kicked-off the rain had stopped and the temperature had risen a few degrees. Both teams were very well supported and the drums and chanting echoed around the ground to great effect. Wellington have averaged 5 tries per game this season but today the Warwick defence were never going to let them get anywhere near that tally.
Warwick’s plan was simple. Kick, kick and then kick again. And, to be fair their 10 Henry Mortimer was very effective at following instructions. What Warwick hadn’t anticipated was the ability of the Wellington 15 and Man of the Match Hugo Bright to be everywhere on the pitch. Bright must have run a marathon today such was his work rate and he was a constant threat on the counter making hard yards time and time again.
Wellington’s scrum was dominant but Warwick certainly had the edge at the lineout with Angus MacDonald and Will Kelley particularly effective. It was a stolen throw in that led to Warwick’s first points after Wellington were penalised for holding on. In a game of this nature every point was going to be gold dust and Mortimer’s sweet strike sent the white and blue shirted supporters into rapture.
3-0 at half time didn’t do justice to the quality of Rugby we had been watching. Both back rows were getting through an incredible amount of work. Bertie Pughe-Morgan and Wellington’s Captain Jack Reid had exceptional games as did Warwick’s Leader Roger Jackson and Jacob Line.
Throughout the first half Wellington’s backs had shown glimpses of potential but had been thwarted by Warwick’s line speed in defence. This couldn’t last forever and eventually the Ross Hanekom juggernaut took hold of a pass at such speed the defence just didn’t see him coming as he swept through to score under the posts. Wellington’s 10 Will Sinfield added the extras and there was a feeling that the tide might just have turned. Sinfield played the Ringmaster for all 60 minutes today. His decision making under pressure was crucial and whether he ran or kicked Wellington always went forward.
The next 20 minutes was a brutal period of attrition. Tom Cunningham won several key turnovers for Wellington through colossal strength and perfect technique. Warwick’s Archie Rippon made tackle after tackle as the black and gold attacking wall were repelled time and time again. Hanekom took an interception on his own 10 meter line and looked certain to score but was hit by a triangle of tackles which held him up over the line. There was no compromise from either side. The ferocity and speed of both defences was incredible.
As the clock ticked down the tempo didn’t. Wellington’s Tobias Scalabrini had made an immediate impact in his first game back from long-term injury and Prop Fin Baxter must have been right behind Bright in the man of the match stakes.
Again Hanekom broke free but Rippon was not to be beaten. That tackle alone encapsulated this Warwick team. They do no wilt easily, they do not panic, they stick together and they have the self-belief to strike hard, as they showed throughout this game.
Unfortunately for the Midlanders this just wasn’t quite enough and when the final whistle went it was the Berkshire school who raised their arms to the sky. Warwick may have been beaten today but they were superb to a man. Sedbergh beware – any side that can beat this Warwick team in the Schools’ Cup must be very special. It might just be Wellington’s year.
Full Time: Warwick U15 3-7 Wellington College U15