Tonbridge School, despite having built, with the help of some defensive lapses, a 25 point lead at half-time, were relieved to hear the final whistle as a resurgent Hampton School pulled back to narrow the deficit to 28-22.
These two schools, although they have several common opponents, are essentially on different circuits and do not have a regular fixture, so this was a classic Cup encounter. Both sides were struggling with injuries up front, Hampton in the front row and Tonbridge in the back five, where they were missing second row Nico Lykiardopoulos and No 8 Adam Petry from the side that had started against Wellington, so forced to move captain George Head from prop to second row.
With the Tonbridge 50 pitch looking in excellent condition on a warm, dry afternoon, Hampton kicked off with the advantage of the slight slope but found themselves seven points down after a couple of minutes. After a Tonbridge kick, a loose ball on the ground was not secured by the Hampton defence, and a fly hack from a Tonbridge boot saw right wing Harry Rees win the race to gather and score, fly half David Wilkinson adding the conversion.
Failure to secure the restart is arguably the most common source of points at all levels of Rugby and Tonbridge found themselves conceding the first of what was to be a string of penalties, enabling Hampton fly half Rowan Grundy to close the gap to four points. This was to prove a temporary respite for the visitors, as the Tonbridge forwards began to dominate territory and possession. After Hampton full back Louis Lynagh had shown a glimpse of his running skills, returning a kick, Tonbridge took play close to the a Hampton line: the ball was switched to Wilkinson in midfield but a penalty for crossing enabled the defence to clear.
A long period of Tonbridge pressure inside the 22 followed, but handling errors by both sides caused moves to break down. Finally after pressure by the Tonbridge pack in the right corner, a long pass found full back Suanu Saro-Wiwa on the left and he outpaced the cover defence to score a well worked try, Wilkinson converting from wide out. This time Tonbridge made no mistake from the restart and the ball came to Wilkinson on the left. The fly half showed good vision to spot an opening and made ground to half way before feeding left wing Oliver Ward, who sprinted down the touchline to beat the cover defence. Despite giving a couple of would be tacklers a second chance in the in-goal area in his keenness to simplify the conversion, Ward finally touched down under the posts, Wilkinson converting.
Although continued penalties conceded by the home side gave them a few attacking lineouts, Hampton were still struggling to get any decent possession and so were unable to establish the game that they had come to play. The powerful Tonbridge forwards continued to dominate, a strong carry by second row Declan Sinclair catching the eye, and good combination of forwards and backs took play back into the Hampton half. There, for a second time, a Tonbridge boot made effective contact with a loose ball and the kick through was gathered by outside centre Charlie Spawforth who dived over in the right corner. Wilkinson maintained his impeccable record from the tee with the touchline conversion.
There followed an apparent scoring opportunity for Hampton with a break in midfield, but a crossing penalty saw the Tonbridge pressure resume. It seemed that a fifth try would come: first prop Blaize Mott found a good angle in midfield but was unable to hold on, then Saro-Wiwa combined with Spawforth on the left , but the final pass went to ground. Following a switch to the right, an ambitious cross kick was attempted to unlock the defence, but was easily fielded.
Half-time: Tonbridge School 28-3 Hampton School
There was little initial change in the pattern of play after the interval, with Tonbridge inside centre Ban Devaney taking play close to the Hampton line. The ball was recycled to Sinclair who dived over, but excellent defence saw the big second row held up and a turnover from the scrum saw Hampton captain Will Verdan run the ball out. With the pressure relieved, Hampton finally found some space with an excellent counter-attack. The ball was moved swiftly to the left, where wing George Tsitsis showed great pace to beat the cover tacklers to add to his growing list of tries scored this season. Grundy added the difficult conversion.
Further good work by Vardan and Lynagh saw the ball come to Tsitsis again, but this time he was pushed into touch. Both sides were now going to their benches and at last Hampton were starting to put some phases of play together, looking to move the ball at pace at every opportunity. Possession was retained through successive phases but it seemed that the penetration would not come, and finally Tonbridge broke out, winning a penalty which was kicked to the left corner. With a driving maul set, it seemed that the Hampton revival would be stopped, but the Tonbridge forwards were penalised within spitting distance of the line.
With the pressure relieved, a second Hampton try came out of nothing. Tsitsis fielded a box kick, and made ground in midfield before offloading to Lynagh who carved straight through the defence on half way before running unopposed to score under the posts. With the gap down to 11 points and five minutes left it was game on and Tonbridge began to look rattled. A further series of penalties saw Yellow being shown to Devaney, and with both tired Tonbridge legs and a man advantage, Hampton were now rampant. An excellent run by Vardan took play deep into the 22, where the desperate defence conceded yet another penalty. Again the speedy Tsitsis was put into space on the left and his finishing was again clinical as he squeezed in at the corner.
With Grundy in no hurry to take the conversion attempt, one assumed that either time was up or that there were a few more minutes left. It proved to be the former, and as the kick drifted wide the referee blew for the end of the game. Had there been time for one more play, a remarkable comeback might have been achieved, but a very tired Tonbridge side were jubilant.
Following the game coaches Chris Morgan and Sean Thomson made the draw for the second round. Mr Morgan, drawing the home sides, did his bit for his school by pulling Tonbridge’s name with is fourth pick, and Mr Thomson returned the favour by drawing Millfield as their opponents. Two years ago Tonbridge had led the Somerset school by 14 points at Street in this competition, before the eventual Trophy winners came back to win 16-14, the closest margin they saw in that campaign. The rematch should be worth seeing.
Full time: Tonbridge 28-22 Hampton
Tonbridge School: Blaize Mott, Harry Hind, Drew Dainton, Declan Sinclair , George Head (Captain), Ollie Wildblood, Will Hockley-Smith, Dylan Taylor, Charlie Mullins, David Wilkinson, Oliver Ward , Ben Devaney , Charlie Spawforth, Harry Rees, Suanu Saro-Wiwa
Replacements: Duncan Heggie, Matteo Petrozzi, James Maddison
Hampton School: Angus Shennan, Nick Powell, Harry Grey, Matt Stamp, Luke Wilson, Sam Brown, Nick Van der Merwe, Will Verdan (Captain), Charlie Bowe, Rowan Grundy, George Tsitsis, Zac Goodwill, Jacob Turley, Rory Carroll, Louis Lynagh
Replacements: Charlie Longford, Alex Lloyd-Seal, Max Vyvyan, Tom Duggan, Shane Barry, Jamie Lashley, Ollie Lack