In a just two short seasons, the Champions Trophy has built up a reputation as a thrilling and exciting tournament, one that never leaves you feeling there was a lack of drama.
On today’s evidence at Dulwich College, where they hosted Eton College, that has certainly not changed. The tournament might now be under the umbrella of the NatWest competitions, but besides that nothing has changed.
Eton College progress to the second round, but that does not even come close to telling the story of this game. It ended as a 17-17 draw, with Eton progressing on try count. For those worried about their own future games and how to progress from a draw, the order is this: 1) Try Count, 2) Number of successful conversions, 3) First Try Scored, 4) First points scored, 5) Away side.
It was a thrilling game, aided by Dulwich’s commitment to their move from a very structured game to a wide and expansive game full of offloads. It can be risky at times, but it made for exciting viewing, and an exciting match.
Looking at the two sides before the game, Dulwich were going to have to play that way. Their side is lithe and silky looking, while Eton College had a big pack that looked like it could do damage to their opposition, the game therefore looked set to be a match of Dulwich trying to keep the ball away from those Eton forwards, and Eton looking to use that power to their advantage.
Early on it looked like that Eton power game might just blow Dulwich away after they scored a try through some great driving play from their forwards after just three minutes.
It felt like that might lead to some real dominance from the men in the blue quartered shirts, however Dulwich came back in stunning fashion, as they developed the play that this writer saw them trying in the President’s Cup in pre-season, and used it to great effect, offloading sometimes three or four times in one phase of play. It was exhilarating to watch and just six minutes later it paid off in style as they swooped in to score by the posts, having seen the ball pass through umpteen sets of hands, eventually ending up with the left wing, standing on the right hand touchline to cut in and score.
The conversion and a penalty shortly after gave the home side double Eton’s points tally at 10-5 as the game neared half time. From that opening few moments of dominance, the away side had been under pressure from this all court Dulwich game.
However it is the sign of a good side when they score not just when under pressure, but when under pressure and at crucial times, turning that pressure on its head. That is exactly what Eton College did, scoring with the very last play of the half, with what was almost a carbon copy of their first try as once again their forward pack huffed and puffed at the Dulwich line and eventually blew their way over.
It sent the sides into the half level at 10-10, but perhaps more importantly it sent the sides in with Dulwich’s momentum now firmly back in Eton’s side of the court. It would be crucial for them to maintain and build on that, it seemed, and after four minutes of the second half that looked like it would be the case as they once again forced their way over the line, only for the ball to be spilled.
Sometimes a moment like that can turn the tide back again the other way, but not this time as three minutes later Eton were over for their third try, and this time it was not a powerful forwards try. This time it was a majestic, scything, run from their away side’s fly half, who had until that point been trying to control the game with his kicking and passing. It was the old fly half’s adage, ‘if you’re going to run (as a fly half), make it count’, and he certainly did that, converting his own try to give his side a 17-10 lead, and to put them two clear on the try count.
Things seemed to be falling into place for Eton, and even more so a few minutes later when Dulwich’s influential scrum half was sent to the bin for kicking the ball away.
Credit to Dulwich though, that yellow card almost seemed to act as a rallying point for them as they re-gathered and built up another period of the game where their running and handling seemed almost to be unplayable. It meant that when the sin bin period was over, they were deep in Eton territory, and with a bubbling scrum half eager to make a difference in a positive way.
That was exactly what he did, sending a reverse pass off the back of a ruck for his number 8 to go crashing over from two yards completely unopposed, the defence flummoxed.
With the conversion nailed, the scored were left at 17-17, good enough for Eton thanks to their try count, but Dulwich needed points. They looked like they could come as they twice created overlaps down the left hand side, and when Eton saw yellow for a tip tackle there seemed a surge of belief that the home side could do it.
However it was not to be, the Eton defence held firm against the tide showing their impressive mental resilience to restrict the home side to just one very long range penalty chance.
A draw was a fair result in reality, two very different teams played well in patches and contributed equally to a game that was thoroughly enjoyable. It came down to the drama of a draw, almost typically it seems with the Champions Trophy, but this was no controversial draw, this was a hard fought and entertaining draw.
Let’s hope for more of the same next week!
Full Time: Dulwich College 17-17 Eton College – Eton through on try count, 3 tries to 2.
You can see photos from the game on our Facebook Page here: Dulwich College v Eton College.
Champions Trophy Round 1 Results:
Dulwich College 17-17 Eton College
Monmouth 21-13 Radley College
Champions Trophy Round 1 Fixtures:
Bristol GS v Sherborne
Canford v Marlborough College
Cranbrook v St John’s Leatherhead
Grammar School at Leeds v Uppingham
Kingswood v Bryanston
Oakham v Berkhamsted
St Paul’s v RGS Guildford
Tonbridge v Hampton