Harlequins claimed the U18 Academy League title after a superbly controlled second half display saw them beat Sale Sharks U18s 20-8.
The Southern Conference trailed the Northern Conference champions 8-3 at half time, leaving the afternoon looking likely to balance out in favour of the North after Worcester Warriors had claimed 5th with a win over Saracens and Exeter Chiefs had sealed third by beating Wasps in a thrilled (See below for reports from those games).
Quins’ second half display edged the balance 2-1 to the Southern Conference though, although this game really was a different kettle of fish to the other two, with the intensity, quality, and physicality all taken up another notch above what had already been a pretty high level first two outings on Worcester Warriors’ synthetic surface here at Sixways Stadium.
Sale Sharks started by far the stronger of the two sides, the north eastern side, who only qualified on the final day by points difference over Wasps, surged straight into the Harlequins 22.
There they camped before scrum half Matt Sturgess wriggled through with the most typical of scrum half darts to put his side 5-0 up after ten minutes. 8 minutes later Kirkham Grammar School fly half Kieran Wilkinson, who had a stunning game, extended the gap to 8-0.
Perhaps Harlequins were caught a little cold, they were hammered at the weekend by Exeter as they rested their star men having already sealed qualification. Perhaps that rest had still left them a little switched off, and without the power of the absent James Gulliver and John Okafor to fall back on, they were just a little off their best.
They got over that early daze though and clawed their way back into the game thanks to some superb controlled rugby. They lost full back Max Coyle to a head injury but rode that loss well, as they began to impose themselves on the game, with openside Luke James of Brighton College a real menace at the breakdown and in the tackle.
It was his Brighton College colleague, the outstanding Marcus Smith, who was pulling the strings though. He has produced some magic this season, but today was a day for the other side of his game his ability to control the pace and direction of the game. That, and his communication. Across all three games there was one voice that everyone is the crowd will remember, Smith’s. He simply never stopped talking, something that even the best players often need a constant reminder to do.
He backed up his talk with a late penalty in the first half, narrowing the gap to 8-3 with about five minutes remaining in the half.
Half time seemed to galvanise Harlequins more than Sale, as it was the London side who flew out of the traps this time, dominating the early play before Luke James went crashing over in the left hand corner from close range.
Smith nailed the touchline conversion, and a few minutes later slotted a penalty to but the Southern champions 13-8 ahead with twenty minutes left on the clock.
It was with fifteen minutes left to go that the crucial moment of the game came though. Sale had been on the attack but Quins had repelled it and turned the ball over on their own 10m line.
Winger Mile McDuffus of Lord Wandsworth College, who have produced more than the odd player in their time, including Jonny Wilkinson and Ugo Monye, emerged with the ball. He stepped past two players in tight to the ruck before showing an unbelievable turn of place, giving the Sale defence clear sight of a clean pair of heels as he streaked towards the posts virtually unopposed.
With Smith landing the simple conversion, Harlequins had turned an 8-3 deficit into a 20-8 lead.
It was a lead they were to hold onto to the end, but not without first having to stifle some excellent breaks from the likes of Wilkinson, Redpath, and the dangerous Sale tight five on the crash.
Hold on they did though, and in fine style for a deserved victory and a brilliant U18 Academy League title. One thing everyone that was on the touchlines knows for sure is that a good many of these players will be gracing our television screens in the future as fully fledged Aviva Premiership stars.
Full Time: Sale Sharks 8-20 Harlequins
Exeter Chiefs took a dramatic victory over Wasps to seal 3rd place in the U18 Academy League in a dramatic 3rd place play-off at Worcester Warriors’ Sixways Stadium.
The scores swung back and forth throughout the game but it was ultimately the boot of Exeter’s fly half, Gwyn Parks, that was the big difference between the two sides as he landed nineteen points from the tee for a 29-28 victory for his side.
Early on it looked like Wasps might run away with it as they scored from almost the first play of the game through Merchant Taylors’ scrum half Will Porter, a man with plenty of 1st XV experience in the Anglo-Welsh Cup this year.
With England U20 fly half Jacob Umaga converting, his side led 7-0, but Parks’ ever-reliable boot took his side back to 7-6.
With the scores close, Wasps pieced together arguably the play of the day as Tom Willis, another with 1st XV experience, bursting through before the ball moved from Porter to Umaga, who released Sam Spink on a beautiful line. Spink offloaded to fullback Matt Wells for the try of game.
At 14-6 Wasps let Exeter back in again though, first through a Parks penalty, and then with loosehead Danny Southworth crashing over from short range, with Parks, naturally, nailing the conversion for a 16-14 lead.
From here the game became incredibly tense, neither side could really stretch an advantage and it seemed as though the bounce of a ball might ultimately make the difference.
Umaga nudged Wasps back in front with a penalty but Parks quickly responded for Exeter before Umaga then responded with another of his own, having earlier narrowly avoided a yellow card for a no-arms tackle.
At this point Wasps led 20-19, in a game that was beginning to tense up. It burst open shortly after though, with a try for each side bringing the crowd to their feet up not altering the closeness of the game as hookers Ben Phillips and Alfie Barbeary exchanged scores, leaving Exeter 26-25 ahead after Parks converted but Umaga’s just drifted wide.
With time ticking away, it seemed like that missed conversion might not matter when Umaga landed a long range penalty to nudge his side two points clear, however Parks was shortly to reply in kind for Exeter, giving them that vital 29-28 lead.
Wasps came surging back though with some fearsome attack late on, however no matter what pressure they exerted, Exeter seemed always just to have the answer in defence as they secured some stunning turnovers to seal the ball, and with it the game and third place.
Full Time: Wasps 28-29 Exeter Chiefs
Worcester Warriors claimed 5th place in the U18 Academy League with a 36-26 win over Saracens U18 on their home patch, Sixways Stadium.
The young men in blue fought valiantly in a topsy turvy game of rugby, they led 24-12 at the break but Saracens came flying back in the second half, taking the lead briefly, only for Worcester to then pull away.
The home side crossed the whitewash six times, through James Scott, inspirational captain Ted Hill, a brace for Oliver Lawrence, a two more for hooker Cameron Harrison, whose second try, from the tail of a driven lineout, sealed victory near the end.
Saracens, in return, managed to pick up four of their own, with full back Elliott Obatoyinbo fnishing beautifully in the first half, adding to an early score from Harrow fly half Manu Vunipola, cousin of Mako and Billy.
Further scores arrived in the second half through replacement hooker Billy Young, whose barnstorming performance off the bench was one of the real highlights of the game.
Those two scores had the crowd thinking that their side would not get the 5th place that they so craved, particularly after openside Charlie Jeavons-Fellows saw yellow, however they were able to get back on top and seal the win through Harrison’s late try.
Ultimately, it was a deserved win, the home side had flown out of the traps and looked outstanding early on. Saracens came back in impressive style, but Worcester’s composure saw them through in the end, giving the North first blood on what was ultimately a superb afternoon of U18 Academy rugby.
Full Time: Worcester Warriors 36-26 Saracens
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U18 Academy League Finals Day fixtures (all on Thursday at Sixways Stadium)
12.30pm – Worcester Warriors 36-26 Saracens – 5th place play-off
2.30pm – Wasps 28-29 Exeter Chiefs – 3rd place play-off
4.30pm – Sale Sharks 8-20 Harlequins – Final
15 Calum Owen, 14 Arron Reed, 13 Conor Doherty, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 George Chatterton, 10 Kieran Wilkinson, 9 Matt Sturgess, 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Nic Dolly, 3 Monty Weatherby, 4 Josef Murphy, 5 Charlie Pozniak (c), 6 Ciaran Booth, 7 Teddy Leatherbarrow, 8 Sam Dugdale.
Replacements: 16 Sol Neild, 17 John Blanchard, 18 Rouban Birch, 19 Charlie Papworth, 20 Luke James, 21 Tom Walsh, 22 Alex Burrage.
15 Max Coyle (Reigate Grammar), 14 Harry Barlow (Cranleigh), 13 Cadan Murley (Bishop Wordsworth), 12 Jake Hennessey (KCS Wimbledon), 11 Miles McDuffus (Lord Wandsworth), 10 Marcus Smith (Brighton College), 9 Tom Nicole (Cranleigh), 1 George Head (Tonbridge), 2 Callum Tilleray (Wellington College), 3 Kareem Swandells (St John’s Leatherhead), 4 Hugh Tizard (Cranleigh), 5 Henry Paremain (RGS Guildford), 6 Vincent Everitt (Hartpury College), 7 Luke James (Brighton College), 8 Jack Kenningham (Reeds).
Replacements: 16 Paul Marshall (Reigate Grammar), 17 Jacob Morris (Whitgift), 18 Kieran Sassone (Sevenoaks), 19 George Hammond (Whitgift), 20 Jack Glover (Harrow), 21 Lennox Anywanwu (Christ’s Hospital), 22 Sunni Jardine (Dulwich College), 23 Jon Searle (Brighton College).
15 Matt Wells, 14 Taju Atta, 13 Murray Bellis, 12 Sam Spink, 11 Brendan Clark, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Will Porter (c), 1 Joe Salkeld, 2 Alfie Barbeary, 3 George Strainge, 4 Harry Sayer, 5 Joe Tunney, 6 Alfred Mawdsley, 7 James Seabrook, 8 Tom Willis.
Replacements: 16 George Probyn, 17 Jarod Leat, 18 Paddy Harris, 19 Frazer Kiff, 20 Tom Guthrie, 21 Tom Bishop, 22 Finn Pietersen, 23 Aaron O’Sullivan.
15 Finn Marks, 14 Jake Penprase, 13 Ollie Gibbon, 12 Joe Elderkin, 11 AJ Cant, 10 Gwyn Parks, 9 Joe Snow (c), 1 Danny Southworth, 2 Ben Phillips, 3 Marcus Street, 4 Joseph Parker Cooke, 5 Lewis Pearson, 6 Charlie Wright, 7 Richard Capstick, 8 Rusi Tuima.
Replacements: 16 Will Ridout, 17 Alfie Petch, 18 Jack Hodge, 19 Torin Clarke, 20 Will Gibson, 21 Max Norey, 22 Sam Maunder, 23 Angus Hallam.
15 Jake Leonard (Worcester 6th Form College), 14 Alex Bartley (Solihull), 13 Dion King (King’s Worcester), 12 Ollie Lawrence (Bromsgrove), 11 Christophe Fostier (Bromsgrove), 10 Alex Forrester (Hartpury College), 9 George Hawkes (Solihull), 1 Kai Owen (Telford College of Arts & Technology), 2 Cameron Harrison (St John’s College, Zimbabwe), 3 Nick Rigby (Warwick), 4 Lawrence Weston (Bromsgrove), 5 James Scott (Malvern College), 6 Tom Fawcett (Warwick), 7 Charlie Jeavons-Fellows (Scots College, Australia), 8 Ted Hill (c) (Worcester 6th Form College).
Replacements: 17 Tom Furnival (Worcester 6th Form College), 18 Max Baggs (Cheltenham College), 19 George Butler (Hereford Cathedral), 20 Oli Thorneywork (Warwick), 21 Tom Williams (Bromsgrove), 22 Lewis Dorey (Worcester 6th Form College), 23 Rob Lester (Worcester 6th Form College).
15 Elliot Obitiyembo, 14 Ollie Bluck, 13 Ollie Morris, 12 Josh Hallett, 11 Chris Annous, 10 Manu Vunipola, 9 Bryn McCall, 1 Tavis Hunter, 2 Sam Crean, 3 Andy Boye, 4 Joel Kpoku, 5 Alfie Scopes, 6 Oscar Furneaux, 7 Sean Reffell (c), 8 Tobias Munday.
Replacements: 16 Billy Young, 17 Kapeli Pifeleti, 18 Harry Morgan, 19 Dec Sinclair, 20 Greg Oxlade, 21 James Elms, 22 Alex Noot, 23 David Jimoh-Ibrahim.
|U18 Academy League Final Standings – Northern Conference|
|U18 Academy League Final Standings – Southern Conference|
U18 Academy League Round 7 Results:
Bristol 44-10 Gloucester
Exeter Chiefs 45-0 Harlequins
Newcastle Falcons 25-12 Leicester Tigers
Saracens 24-23 Bath
Wasps 32-26 Northampton Saints
Yorkshire Carnegie 0-36 Sale Sharks
U18 Academy League Round 6 Results:
Exeter Chiefs 17-34 Saracens
Gloucester 33-38 Harlequins
Leicester Tigers 20-20 Yorkshire Carnegie
London Irish 34-26 Bristol
Sale Sharks 43-27 Northampton Saints
Newcastle Falcons 17-34 Worcester Warriors
U18 Academy League Round 5 Results:
Bath 28-35 Exeter Chiefs
Harlequins 55-12 Bristol
Leicester Tigers 31-5 Wasps
Northampton Saints 43-19 Yorkshire Carnegie
Saracens 38-31 London Irish
Worcester Warriors 0-27 Sale Sharks
U18 Academy League Round 4 Results:
Bath 19-20 London Irish
Bristol 21-59 Saracens
Exeter Chiefs 34-26 Gloucester
Leicester Tigers 19-29 Sale Sharks
Wasps 30-3 Newcastle Falcons
Worcester Warriors 43-16 Northampton Saints
U18 Academy League Round 3 Results:
Gloucester 38-41 Bath
London Irish 21-24 Exeter Chiefs
Northampton Saints 39-19 Newcastle Falcons
Sale Sharks 12-22 Wasps
Saracens v Harlequins
Yorkshire Carnegie 10-39 Worcester Warriors
U18 Academy League Round 2 Results:
Bristol 17-21 Exeter Chiefs
Harlequins 40-5 Bath
London Irish 32-43 Gloucester
Sale Sharks 37-15 Newcastle Falcons
Worcester Warriors 27-26 Leicester Tigers
Yorkshire Carnegie 14-38 Wasps
U18 Academy League Round 1 Results:
Bath 22-22 Bristol
Gloucester 59-26 Saracens
Harlequins 30-21 London Irish
Newcastle Falcons 29-34 Yorkshire Carnegie
Northampton Saints 41-13 Leicester Tigers
Wasps 28-17 Worcester Warriors