There can be few more evocative and potentially humiliating settings to play Rugby as a visiting team than Eton.
The size and volume of partisan support rivals coming out the dug-out as a visitor to Anfield. It is well known throughout the schools’ community that playing at Eton means you start 10 points down and this was proved on Tuesday when they were in stunning form in the Champions Trophy and absolutely blew away the Grammar School at Leeds, beating them 55-12.
Wellington are a good team this year with a bond that looks hard to break. With ball in hand they had taken Millfield and Sherborne to task in previous weeks, bouncing back from their very disappointing defeat to Whitgift.
The match was played on ‘The Field’ but immense credit must be given to the Eton Groundsman who turned out a pitch St. John’s Wood’s Father time would have been proud of.
The sun shone as kick-off was taken and it was Wellington who attacked hard and got off to a flying start. Quick ball was secured and Wellington’s Captain and No. 8 Josh Basham took possession deep into the Eton half with one of his characteristic, titanic charges. Eton stemmed the tide but support was on hand to deliver the ball to Wellington’s 13, Sam Spink who beautifully beat his man to score with less than two minutes on the clock. Dylan Moss’s trusted left boot delivered the extras and the home crowd seemed a little deflated.
Wellington possess attacking potential from anywhere on the pitch and eight minutes later Scrum-half, Oli Wilson picked up a loose ball to cut a glorious line between two defenders and, with a strong hand-off, powered over the line for the Visitor’s second. 0-12 down but Eton’s resolve is generations deep and whatever Captain Will Sutcliff said, their forwards immediately ratcheted up the intensity a couple of notches and now began their pack’s dominance which lasted for the majority of the match.
A succession of powerful drives led by Eton’s feisty openside, Ben Jones gave Will Polito room from behind his pack to sell a double of delightful dummies and dive over the line to bring the home side back into the match. Jamie Cotta missed the difficult conversion by the smallest of margins but Eton’s tails were up and their forwards in command. Wellington lost a series of scrums and were turned over in the line-out for the first time this season. Eton were winning every 50:50 and their young front row gave their opposite numbers a lesson they will not forget. Sam Dawson and Ed Cockman had the games of their lives in tight and lose, yet Wellington’s defence held firm with Fitz Harding and Charlie Jupp putting their bodies on the line with the most intense of displays.
For the visitors to be turning around at half-time with a seven points lead didn’t seem right, and perhaps there was some justice when a simple move went dreadfully wrong for Wellington immediately after the re-start and Eton’s Marcus Shankland was perfectly positioned to pounce and score an opportunistic five pointer from 30 yards. Cotta’s aim was true this time and the home crowd roared with anticipation that history was about to be made.
The next 20 were Wellington’s most uncomfortable of the season. Although the likes of Jupp, Izaiha Moore and the impressive Tom Spencer-Jones continued to pound the Eton line with powerful runs, they just couldn’t produce enough clean ball to unleash their backs.
Finally, Rory McMichael managed to produce a moment of class and working with the ever dangerous Spink, cleverly made space on the edge of a narrow defensive line, with Ben Loader doing the rest to score on the right. Moss’s touchline attempt hit the post but Wellington were ahead at last.
Wellington were back now in the ascendance and their forward began to play with more confidence and fluency. Louis Edmondes made an impact from the bench and with ball in hand Loader, Moss, McMichael, Wilson and Spink all looked extremely threatening.
The visitors final try was perhaps their best and it came from sustained forwards pressure with Basham and Spencer-Jones providing a rock to play off. Wellington’s young 10, Will Sinfield had his most assured game of the season and produced the most sumptuous flat miss pass on the gain line to enable Moss to work his magic, making his marker look leaded-footed and put the game beyond Eton. 12-22.
Eton were certainly not going down lightly and the last few minutes belonged back to their pack which camped itself in the visitor’s 22. No. 8 Kedem Morgan had a very strong game throughout and was held up perilously close to the whitewash but the hoops of black and gold were tireless in defence and their line was not going to be breached.
Eton had played themselves into the ground and must take huge credit for that. In defence they had starved the Wellington backs of ball, yet when Wellington did get possession, they demonstrated a physicality Eton could not cope with, showing some real attacking intent and scoring some great tries. Eton’s Lower Sixth front row were unstoppable at scrum-time; Wellington were fortunate about the number of reset scrums.
Eton had some very tough defence on multiple occasions when Wellington were camped inside their 22 in both halves. While a valiant effort from Eton, Wellington were clinical when they had the ball and resolute enough in defence to deserve the win, although an Eton back up to full strength must surely be very optimistic of a long run in the Champions Trophy.
By Will Beresford
Full Time: Eton College 12-22 Wellington College
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