Hurstpierpoint College put in a strong first half performance and survived a battle against the elements after half time to defeat Skinners’ School 38-19 in Round 2 of the NatWest Schools U18 Cup, London & SE B Group.
A visit to Skinners’ iconic sloping 1st XV pitch in Tunbridge Wells is never to be taken lightly, as Hurstpierpoint found when these two schools met 12 months ago, when the home side clinched a narrow win. While Hurst came into the game with four losses against only three wins, the defeats had been against leading schools, including Brighton and St John’s Leatherhead, so they were probably favourites on paper.
Hurst, having won the toss, elected to take advantage of the slope and the strong, chilly wind, and wasted little time in putting points on the board. Inside centre Harry Shields displayed the strong running that was to be a feature throughout and put fellow centre Toby Barker in for a try close to the posts. Tom Heath’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful. The visitors again drove down the slope and this time it was the forwards who took play to the line before prop Zac Langdon dived over in the left corner.
Down, 0-10 after only seven minutes, Skinners’ were fighting to stay in the game, and found themselves again back in their own half after a strong carry by Hurst left wing Matthew Dandy. However, this time the defence held firm and pressure was relieved, and outside centre Harry Boorman made ground before feeding Alfie King on the left. Although the wing was stopped just short of the line, Skinners’ maintained their pressure and the ball came on the left to prop Jack Holden who showed an excellent turn of pace to break through several tackles to crash over in the corner. Scrum half Max Gonella’s touchline conversion attempt directly into the wind was well struck and right on line but fell just short.
A penalty against Skinners’ saw an attacking Hurst lineout on the Skinners’ 22, won at the tail by Captain / No 8 Christian Harwood, and the ball was moved quickly into midfield where Barker found a superb line to cut clean through the defence and score his second try. Another strong run from Shields at the restart ensured that play continued in the Skinners’ 22 where the slope is at its most pronounced. Desperate and ultimately over-zealous defence prompted stern words to the Skinners’ side from referee Phil Bowers, and from the ensuing penalty Dandy was put into space before forcing his way over in the left corner. With Heath’s difficulties from the tee continuing, the lead stood at 5-20.
Against the run of play Skinners’ hit back almost immediately, to keep the deficit within range. A mazy run by wing Julian Cheung in midfield took play into the Hurst 22 before play was switched to the left, where Holden again showed good skills, feeding King who raced down the touchline before running behind the posts to score, Gonella making no mistake from the tee.
After Heath had at last had some success from the tee, taking three points from a penalty in front of the posts, Hurst managed to stretch their lead to a margin that would probably have met their coaches’ expectations at the interval, given the conditions and the territorial advantage enjoyed. After further good work by the Hurst backs, Shields again making some hard yards, a big overlap was available and a try seemed inevitable but the final pass was ruled forward by Mr Bowers. The pressure was maintained however, as Hurst stole a line-out and open side flanker Seb Moore wrestled his way over for a try in the corner.
Half-time: Skinners; School 12-28 Hurstpierpoint College
Skinners’, well-practised in exploiting the unique geometry of their pitch, will have been looking to score first in the second half, but their hopes were eroded by more good work from the Hurst backs. After an initial break by Shields and Barker, full back Joe Seaton combined with Dendy before Moore crossed for his second try.
Gradually Skinners’ began to exploit the elements with Gonella’s kicking game taking play into the Hurst 22. Good hands saw the ball moved to replacement Joe Montaner-Willis on the left but he was just held up over the line by the defence. Pressure was maintained with both fly half James Gardner and Captain / No 8 Samuel Grasby coming close, and the desperation of the defence was further evidenced when Mr Bowers showed yellow to reduce Hurst to 14 men, and shortly afterwards needed to speak with both captains as tempers flared. However, the home side were unable to capitalise on the man advantage, and the storm was weathered.
With Hurst back at full strength, another break by Barker looked like taking him to the line, but an excellent cover tackle led to a penalty to Skinners’. The momentum had shifted back to the Sussex side, though, and, with their bench now on, the lead was stretched still further as flanker Jonathan Stanway went over for a seventh Hurst try.
Although the game was now clearly lost, Skinners’ were determined to get something for their second half territorial advantage. Their own replacements were also making an impact, with U16 Charles MacDonald-Gay showing he is ready to compete at this level. Finally the consolation score came after Gonella had put the ball deep into the right corner from a penalty. With the lineout won, second row Matthew Ingman took the ball up in midfield before offloading to Grasby who scored on the left. The conversion was by no means straightforward in the conditions, but Gonella’s kick was on target.
The Hurst minibuses now face another trip down the A21, as the Sussex School will face Skinners’ local rivals The Judd School in the third round of the Competition.
Schools Rugby Correspondent
Images via Rob Kift
Skinners’ School: Jack Holden, Maximillian McCabe, Jake Brinton, Matthew Ingman, Tomas De Bruin, Jamie Kelsey, Thomas Midgley, Samuel Grasby (Capt), Max Gonella, James Gardner, Julian Cheung, Finn Treadaway, Harry Boorman, Alfie King, Guy Ritcher
Replacements: Ollie Brinton, Charles MacDonald-Gay, Luca Tonelli, Alexander Nicholds, Jake Grady, Joe Montaner-Willis
Hurstpierpoint College: Todd Blackburn, Noah Jenkins, Zac Langdon, Toby Reed, Jake Liebers, Jonathan Stanway, Sebastian Moore, Christian Harwood (Captain), Joseph Gilligan, Tom Heath, Matthew Dandy, Harry Shields, Toby Barker, Peter De, Joe Seaton
Replacements: Elliott Dryden, Matthew Roser, Dylan Wallis, Henry Whittaker