Brighton College ensured that they have bragging rights over other Sussex Rugby playing schools for the current season with a 38-19 victory over Seaford College on Rosslyn Park’s 3G pitch.
With neither school choosing to enter NatWest competitions at U18 Level this season, they found an appropriate venue and occasion to bring their XV a side seasons to a climax. Seaford had taken the equivalent match-up last year, but now faced an undefeated Brighton side that has recorded wins over Cranleigh, St John’s and Epsom, as well as other Sussex rivals Hurstpierpoint and Eastbourne, with only the “losing draw” at St Joseph’s spoiling an otherwise perfect season.
Seaford, after their outstanding 2015/16 season, had some tough defeats against schools with winning records last term, and are a predominantly Lower VIth side with experience coming from London Irish U18 players, flanker / captain Elliott Quinton and centre Fergus Guiry. Brighton are also a young side, within much of the forward pack due back at the school next year, but include a number of Premiership Academy or Age Group International players, including fly half / captain Marcus Smith, wing Josh Jones, full-back Jon Searle and flanker Luke James.
The installation of the synthetic pitch at Rosslyn Park has transformed what was at times a slippery playing surface, and this seemed to suit Brighton’s playing style as their speedy backs gave them the field position to get the better of the opening exchanges, Searle showing quick feet to take play deep into the left corner. Although Jones, having been picked out by a well-weighted cross-kick to the right corner by Smith, was stopped on the goal line by the cover defence, Brighton maintained the pressure. When play was again switched to the left, prop Mike Key dived over in the corner, Smith converting from wide out.
Searle again showed his running skills after the restart, but Seaford were able to clear and looked to have the edge in the set scrums. However, after an injury delay, it was Smith who opened up the defence with a break down the right, going over in the corner to stretch the lead to 12-0. Finally the Petworth based school had some sustained possession, but were unable to break through the defensive line despite a strong scrum on half way. It was the running skills of Smith that caught the eye as he evaded would be tacklers before offloading to Jones who scored in the corner, Smith converting.
A penalty conceded on half way by Seaford gave Brighton an attacking lineout on the 22 from which their forwards drove into midfield. It looked as if the lead might be stretched further, but an offload by Smith went loose and was seized by inside centre Harrison Sims who broke into space, showing excellent pace. Although he was eventually stopped on the Brighton 22, Seaford retained possession and play was switched to the left, reaching wing Harrison Walker. Although he was stopped, Brighton were forced to concede a 5m scrum. With the set piece still looking solid, the first phase ball came to Sims who raced through untouched to score under the posts, Guiry converting.
Half-time: Brighton College 19-7 Seaford College
After the interval Brighton were clearly intent on re-establishing their lead and their forwards drove to the left corner. Although Seaford regained possession, an attempted clearance kick was charged down and seized by the Brighton forwards, and it was again Key who was first to the ball to touch down, Smith converting. It looked as if Brighton might pull away, but a rare error by Smith resulted in a turnover which again enabled Sims to break clear in midfield. This time he found his fellow centre Guiry who raced in to score under the posts and convert the try himself.
With the lead again reduced to twelve points, the next score would be crucial: another Seaford try would bring them within range. An extended period of kicking ended with a late hit on Smith close to the touchline on half way, which must have concerned Quins Academy Head Coach, Howard Graham who was on hand to keep an eye on his key young talents in advance of their U18 clash with Saracens on Saturday. Happily the Brighton captain seemed fine, and the resulting penalty set up what was to prove the crucial phase of the game. A further penalty conceded by Seaford at the ensuing maul took play into the right corner. From a 5m scrum, the ball came to Smith who stepped his way through to score under the posts. With the simple conversion successful, the lead once again looked comfortable.
Seaford made every effort to claw their way back. When Brighton were penalised in midfield, an attacking lineout was set up ten metres out from the Brighton line. Although possession was lost, Brighton were again penalised on their 22. This time Seaford opted for a scrum: although the first phase ball was secured a kick to the corner was comfortably fielded by the defence. A 22 drop-out saw play cleared to half way, but Brighton were again penalised and a quick tap saw scrum half Josh Goodwin break to the 22. Seaford threatened but a loose pass was seized by replacement wing Max Clark and the opportunity lost.
A 22 drop-out by Seaford was returned by outside centre Alfie Beadle and the momentum took play into the right corner where replacement Noah Marshall touched down. With the game secure, Marcus Smith was replaced, no doubt to the relief of Mr Graham. As both sides increasingly went to their benches, the Brighton replacements including several U16s and Marcus Smith’s younger brother, play was now opening up and Searle began to make use of the open spaces. However it was Seaford who completed the scoring with a well-deserved try, as the powerful Quinton seized the ball from a lineout on the right before showing impressive pace and a big handoff on the final defender to crash over, Guiry converting.
This was an excellent opportunity for players from both sides to gain experience of playing under lights. For schools who wish to play 15 a side Rugby after Christmas but are not involved in Cup competition. Brighton are continuing with this innovation by participating – along with Millfield – in a triangular tournament at Portsmouth G.S. on Saturday: weather permitting, that should be a feast of running rugby.
Full time: Brighton College 38-19 Seaford College
Brighton College: Mike Key, Jay Parvin, C. Chetwood, Dan Swarbrick, Elliott Stiglitz, Toby Smith, Luke James, George Cook, Harry Venn, Marcus Smith (Captain), Henry Simpson, Zach Davies, Alfie Beadle, Josh Jones, Jon Searle
Replacements: Igor Dobserdov, Max Clark, Cameron Abercrombie, Noah Marshall, Harry Moorat, Luke Smith, Charlie McGregor
Seaford College: Aarron Bulman, Peter Barry, James Porteous, Ethan Lawrence, Winston Murrin, Alex Renwick-Gray, Elliott Quinton (Captain), Alfie Ransom, Josh Goodwin, Jack Martin, Harrison Walker, Harrison Sims, Fergus Guiry, Hugo Squires, Charlie Norton