Tonbridge School resisted a late revival by Millfield School to make amends for their narrow defeat two years ago in this competition, as they recorded a 26-7 win in Round 2 of the NatWest Schools Champions Trophy.
With morning showers having been blown away, the 50 pitch was bathed in autumn sunshine at kick-off time, only a swirling cross wind blowing through the Kent Weald from the East disturbing the otherwise perfect conditions. Millfield had taken no chances with motorway traffic, having travelled up the previous evening. Tonbridge were back to full strength, welcoming back forwards Nico Lykiardopoulos and Adam Petry (both injured for the Hampton game) to the starting side.
The Millfield kick-off was perfectly flighted into the wind and the Somerset side enjoyed first possession, clearly setting out their intention of moving the ball through the hands and taking play into the Tonbridge 22. However the ball was turned over and run out by Petry. It was clear that this was to be a physical contest as Millfield hooker Jack Burnett put in a big hit on Tonbridge full back Suanu Saro-Wiwa, the crowd wincing at the impact.
The visitors began to concede a succession of penalties, several apparently being due to their interpretation of when early lifting in the lineout being different from that of referee Mr Clayton. A Tonbridge kick to the left corner enabled a driving maul to be set up and that trundled inexorably close to the line, but an infringement was spotted by Mr Clayton and the pressure was relieved.
After another penalty conceded by Millfield had led to attacking line-out in the right corner, Tonbridge moved the ball well through the hands to outside centre Charlie Spawforth but he was unable to break through. Huge pressure on the Millfield line ensued, but was met by excellent Millfield defence. Eventually another penalty in the left corner led to another maul, from which Petry broke off to score wide out. David Wilkinson’s conversion attempt was taken by the wind and struck the right upright before dropping over the bar to give the home side a 7-0 lead after fifteen minutes.
Millfield again won the restart and strove to establish some phases of possession with some slick handling by the backs. Quick offloading saw play taken into the Tonbridge 22 and captain Charlie Howard crashed through in midfield but the pass had gone forward and Tonbridge were able to clear. The home side backs now showed that they too had some running skills and quick passing down the left gave the speedy Saro-Wiwa an overlap, the full back diving in at the corner to give Tonbridge a 12-0 lead at the interval.
Half-time: Tonbridge School 12-0 Millfield School
The Tonbridge restart was well taken and run back by Millfield open side flanker Henry Povoas, for me their outstanding player on the day, but the Millfield backs’ attempts to move the ball quickly were continuing to lead to handling errors. Another penalty conceded by the visitors, for offside at a scrum, gave Tonbridge good field position and an excellent run by the athletic Petry took play close to the Millfield line. Though possession was lost, the attempted clearance kick from the in-goal area was charged down by Ollie Wildblood and the flanker was first to the loose ball, touching down to give his side their third try, Wilkinson converting.
With a large and vocal home crowd on the touchline getting behind their side, it seemed that the lead might be extended further after more good work by Petry, who linked with Saro-Wiwa and wing Harry Rees, but the ball was lost and a huge Millfield clearance kick took play into the Tonbridge 22. The box kicking of Tonbridge scrim half had been an effective tactic in the difficult wind, but this was gradually becoming a source of possession for Millfield and, with Tonbridge starting to concede penalties, the visitors finally started to exert some pressure.
Although a Millfield maul was stopped close to the line, Tonbridge were caught offside and the ball was moved quickly to the left, where prop Sonny Bryant-Winning crashed over to score in the corner. Fly half Cameron Brown’s touchline conversion attempt was beautifully struck and just cleared the bar. With Millfield at last on the scoreboard and Tonbridge down to 14 men, centre Ben Devaney having been shown yellow by Mr Clayton, there was a clear shift in momentum, as the home side continued to concede penalties. For a few minutes it seemed that a repeat of the last ten minutes of the Hampton game might be on the cards, as a second Millfield try would have led to a nail biting finish. A succession of try scoring opportunities followed, but chances of overlaps went begging before Millfield drove to the line in the left corner and were held up by the Tonbridge defence. The pressure continued but still the try would not come, and eventually another run by Petry and a kick from Mullins saw some relief.
Having weathered the storm, as is so often the case, the side under pressure broke out and a penalty gave Tonbridge an attacking lineout on the right. From the back of that, captain George Head took the ball at pace and the powerful prop broke through tackles before offloading. The ball came to Spawforth in space and he raced through untouched to score, Wilkinson converting to bring the game to a close.
The scoreline belies how close the game was with ten minutes to go and Millfield dominating possession and territory. This was a hard fought game, with the forward strength of the home side ultimately the deciding factor. They now travel to meet old rivals Eton College in the quarter finals. (You can see the full quarter final draw here: Champions Trophy quarter finals.)
Full time: Tonbridge School 26-7 Millfield School
Schools Rugby Correspondent
Tonbridge School: Blaize Mott, Drew Dainton, George Head (Captain), Nico Lykiardopoulos, Declan Sinclair, Ollie Wildblood, Dylan Taylor, Adam Petry, Charlie Mullins, David Wilkinson, Oliver Ward, Ben Devaney, Charlie Spawforth, Harry Rees, Suanu Saro-Wiwa
Replacements: Harry Hind, Jack Harvey, Will Hockley Smith, Duncan Heggie, Matteo Petrozzi, James Maddison
Millfield School: Ben Mulvey, Jack Burnett, Sonny Bryant-Winning, James Dun, Charlie Howard (Capt), James Reed, Henry Povoas, George Brophy, Cameron Brown, Oli Hobman, Kieran Griffiths, Cian Kennedy, Joe Sargeant, Joshua Wright, Oran McNulty
Replacements: Henry Massey, Finn Mitchell, Charlie Gallop, Miles Letchford, Ben Mallett, Thomas Bevan, Will Bourne