Tonbridge will face Bedford in the Champions Trophy final at Allianz Park on Friday 2nd December after a brilliant 19-8 victory against Oakham on Tuesday.
The game was a brutal, physical, affair that was a real Cup classic as both sides gave everything in pursuit of victory. Tonbridge were on top for the vast majority of the game, but the home side’s defence was outstanding in both its efficiency and determination, however the Kent men persisted and were eventually rewarded.
A brutal first half ended 6-0 in Tonbridge’s favour, despite a yellow card for scrum half Charlie Mullins, thanks to two penalties from outside half David Wilkinson.
It had been that sort of game, Tonbridge had battered away at Oakham, but then men in black had offered up little, with back row stars Alfie Dawson and skipper Freddie Davies putting in an immense defensive shift row the home side.
It was clear though that the power of the Tonbridge front 5 was where this game was likely to be decided. If they could sap the energy from the Oakham defence, opportunites would surely strike, however with a huge crowd behind them, the prospect of the Oakham defence cracking was very much an ‘if’, not ‘when’.
It was the sort of crowd that we would love to see at school games on a more regular basis, even boisterous enough at one stage for a bright pink flare to go up, the atmosphere was electric and became even more so after the outstanding Josh Lewis narrowed the gap to 6-3 shortly after the half time break.
This period was perhaps the only time in the game where Tonbridge might have become quite concerned as they lost their fly half, Wilkinson, to a nasty looking head knock.
As their player-maker in chief and goalkicker, he was not a man they would have wanted to go off, however up stepped second row Declan Sinclair in a performance reminiscent of the great Australian lock, John Eales.
Sinclair, a fly half as a youngster but now a giant of a second row, took over the kicking duties, and added two penalties in two minutes to the Tonbridge score to take them 12-3 ahead, with Oakham this time reduced to 14 men temporarily as Ben Boulton-Smith saw yellow.
Tonbridge were soon down to 14 themselves though, however they seemed unaffected by the reduction in numbers as they secured the crucial score that really decided the game.
With seven minutes left to play, Tonbridge kicked the ball deep into Oakham territory. Chasing points, Oakham chose to run it back from deep, but a handling error saw the ball go down and Tonbridge pounce. It said something of the fitness and determination of that Tonbridge front five that three of them touched the ball in the immediate phase after the spill, despite the ball being some sixty yards from the initial clearance.
Captain George Head was, unsurprisingly given his astonishing work-rate, one of those to get his hands on the ball as it was shifted left, where the outstanding Sinclair was waiting to pounce on the left wing for a wonderful Tonbridge try.
The second row continued his all round performance with a majestic touchline conversion to take the score out to 19-3 in away side’s favour.
It was brilliant and determined play from Tonbridge, but the margin at that stage felt tough on Oakham, who had thrown themselves into tackle after tackle, determined to do their school proud and like up to that famous NatWest Cup winning history.
It was testament to them, then, that despite the game being as good as over they continued to give everything, seizing their most sustained period of possession as they hammered away at the Tonbridge line in one of the most exciting periods of the game.
Again and again they attacked, and in the final play of the game they were given their just rewards with a try for fizzing winger Seb Davies, who dived over for a deserved final flourish for his side, leaving the final score at 19-8 in Tonbridge’s favour.
Tonbridge were the deserved winners though, they had dug deep in the face of resilient defence and engineered some excellent scoring positions. They worked their way to a strong lead with the boot, before pounced on a mistake in the most ruthless of styles to seal the game.
They will now face the reigning champions, Bedford, in the final at Allianz Park on Friday 2nd December in what is sure to be one of the games of the season and a real heavyweight clash between two of the best sides around.
The Champions Trophy final is not to be missed!
Full Time: Oakham 8-19 Tonbridge