Bedford’s hopes of securing back to back Champions Trophy titles remain alive after a stunning defensive performance saw them beat Epsom College 10-5 to reach the final.
The champions were 5-0 down at half time having had a huge wind behind them at Epsom College, but scored two tries in the face of the elements early in the second half, including one through man of the match Fraser Dingwall, and then built the most impressive of defensive walls to keep the home side out for the remainder of the game.
This semi final was a brutal encounter, physically it was as impressive and intense as any game you will see at schools level. That physicality and intensity was in evidence right from the start, and little wonder. A semi final is a big enough occasion, but when it is a repeat of last year’s final it adds another layer of intensity to the encounter.
With the RFU cameras trained on the game too, the players knew that it was not just the crowd of a few hundred on the touchlines watching, but thousands more around the country, the pressure was on to perform, and both sides rose to that challenge.
Epsom started the brighter, their big physical pack defying the wind blowing directly at them and putting real pressure on Bedford as they smashed their way forward, with the back row trio of Max Turner, Tom Booker, and the outstanding James Gulliver all standing out as the home side imposed themselves on the game.
Eleven minutes in that pressure paid off, and in typical style for the game as Epsom pumped the ball into the corner from a penalty. From there they worked a maul and then forced there way towards the Bedford line, before Gullvier emerged clutching the ball over the Bedford line. It was a big moment, and coming so early and with Epsom so on top, it felt like it could spell the start of a points scoring spree.
Bedford rallied superbly though, turning to the boot slightly more than they had done early in the game. By doing so they forced themselves deep into Epsom territory as the half drew towards a close.
From there they spent the final ten minutes of the half pressurising the home try line. No matter what the champions did though, they could not cross the line, with some heroic defence keeping them out. Epsom wing Alexander Coe put in a stunning try saving tackle on opposite number William Bowes, but was unable to roll away and saw yellow for his troubles. It was worth the pain though for his team as they managed to see out the half without conceding.
Bedford could have seen that as a real blow, given that the wind seemed to be worth a try or two, however they came out for the second half in dominant fashion. From the kick off they dominated possession and territory, and seven minutes in they set up a scrum in the right hand side of the Epsom 22.
Looking at their man advantage in the backline, Bedford stacked all of their backs on the openside, moving the ball quickly from right to left, from which right wing Ben Kight, standing on the far left, was able to cross in the corner virtually unopposed to level the game.
Ten minutes later they were at it again, building pressure before winning a series of scrums five metres from the Epsom line. Again Bedford moved it left, and this time it was Dingwall who crossed for a deserved try, giving his side a 10-5 lead that they would take to the end.
Taking that lead to the end was far from easy though, from almost the moment Bedford scored, Epsom started to return wave after wave of attack. Bedford simply could not be breached though, first Epsom tried to smash through them around the fringes, but the likes of Joseph Rogers, Conor Finsh, and Ryan Hussey shut the door firmly.
Epsom moved Causer from full back to fly half, but the Bedford linespeed shut down his options, and when the ball did go wide the outstanding Dingwall was there to shut any attack down. Dingwall’s defence was probably the key factor in the game, time and time again he brought down key Epsom runners, chopping them, holding them up, driving them back, the style did not matter, the tackles just kept coming in.
His teammates followed suit in exemplary fashion, forced Epsom to go from side to side rather than forwards. Even so, Epsom’s power eventually yielded one chance as what felt like the whole of the school swarmed to the Bedford 22, but once more Bedford were able to hold out and secure the victory.
It sends them into the final at Allianz Park on Friday 2nd December, where they will be looking to make it back to back titles. Their opposition will be either Oakham or Tonbridge, who meet on Oakham’s Doncaster Close on Tuesday afternoon.
For Epsom it is the end of the road, but they must take great pride in having been part of a truly fantastic game of rugby, and pushing the champions all the way. Either side could have won this game, and the winner would have been deserving.
If the final is even half as tense and impressive as this, it will be quite some game.
Full Time: Epsom College 5-10 Bedford
15 Adam Causer, 14 Alexander Coe, 13 Edward Hughes, 12 Logan Didier, 11 Callum Mullett, 10 Ben Holder 9 Finlay Savill, 1 Nicholas Phizackerley, 2 Callum Torpey, 3 Toby Howarth, 4 Felix Griffin, 5 Joshua Clark-Bell, 6 Max Turner, 7 Tom Booker, 8 James Gulliver.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Milne, 17 Douglas McLean, 18 Matthew Buxton Smith, 19 Xani Lawrence, 20 Tom Williams, 21 Tom Byers, 22 Jack Taylor.
15 Alfie Orchard, 14 Ben Kight, 13 Fraser Strachan, 12 Fraser Dingwall (c), 11 William Bowes, 10 Edward Johnson, 9 Jack Dalton, 1 Colston Kane, 2 William Kerr, 3 William Entwistle, 4 Oliver Hind, 5 Joseph Rogers, 6 Conor Finch, 7 Joe Wallave, 8 Ryan Hussey.
Replacements: 16 George Seward, 17 Jason Van Der Walt, 18 Peter Jamieson, 19 Ted Hicks.