St John’s Leatherhead progressed to the last 16 of the Champions Trophy with a 36-19 victory over Cranbrook on Wednesday afternoon.
The game took place just a few short hours before the draw for the second round, held live at Tonbridge School after their 28-22 victory over Hampton, in which St John’s were drawn away against local rivals Epsom College, who reached last year’s final.
A last 16 tie against last year’s finalists might seem daunting, and indeed Epsom are in flying form this year, however St John’s have plenty of reason to be confident.
Their rugby has been outstanding at times this year, and in spells during this game it was as well, however Cranbrook will have come away from this game with their heads held high after a very spirited display.
St John’s were the heavy favourites heading into the game, but on a dry, tight, sloped pitch, against an opposition gunning for an upset, anything was possible.
The away side started with a bang though, and could have been two tries to the good very early on were it not for some tremendous scrambling Cranbrook defence.
After ten minutes St John’s did break the deadlock after some good handling following a scrum in Cranbrook territory released full back Jordan Bond to score in the right hand corner.
Fear was that that could open the floodgates, but not against this Cranbrook group. They rallied superbly, and eight minutes later they surged into St John’s territory, earning a penalty to narrow the gap to just two points.
However the penalty drifted wide, and it was here that St John’s jumped on their greater big game experienced, taking a quick drop out while Cranbrook’s concentration was just dipping, allowing their forwards to break down the left wing before releasing left wing Toby McRae to scorch in from halfway for a truly breathtaking try.
Two further tries followed in the next ten minutes for the away side, with McRae adding a second following a big break from Kimball Klintworth in midfield, and then a try that had a smile on every face as loosehead Sebastian Carley was released on the left wing to cross over from ten yards – though that ten yards is sure to become fifty by the end of the week, as is the right of any prop!
That put his team 22-0 up, and from there is seemed like a long way back for Cranbrook, however a try on the stroke of half time from them highlighted their sheer desire to stay in the game and progress in the competition, sending the sides in at 22-7 at the break, and with hope alive for the home side.
One could have forgiven them for losing that hope when less than ten minutes into the second half St John’s had pushed the lead out to 36-7 thanks to a further try through the forwards, and a try for a brilliant hat-trick from McRae.
Cranbrook’s woes were compounded in the build up to that second try with a yellow card for not retreating ten metres at a penalty, something that the referee was particularly keen on as he sent one of the St John’s players to the bin for the same offence shortly after.
The game was effectively done and dusted after that two try blitz, however Cranbrook refused to see it that way, if anything upping their performance as they really began to dominate possession of the ball, and were rewarded with two more tries to add to their first half effort as they game headed towards a close.
It was spirited stuff. The St John’s victory was never really in doubt, but the guts shown by the home side were truly outstanding – many others have capitulated when faced with the same circumstances in these competitions.
For St John’s though it was a deserved win with some moments of real quality in there. They are only likely to get better too as they welcome injured players back to their ranks. Their battle with Epsom College looks set to be a thriller, both will feel that they are more than good enough for a place in the quarter finals.
Full Time: Cranbrook 19-36 St John’s Leatherhead
You can see photos from the game on our Facebook Page here: Gallery – Cranbrook v St John’s Leatherhead.
You can see the full 2nd Round draw here: Champions Trophy 2nd Round Draw