Warwick secured their place in the U18 NatWest Cup final with a 30-17 victory over Felsted at Allianz Park.
The West Midlands side will face Bishop Wordsworth’s at Twickenham Stadium on Wednesday 29th March after the Wiltshire side beat back to back champions Bromsgrove earlier on in the day to seal their place.
It will be a welcome return to Twickenham for Warwick who have a few demons to bury having lost the 2013 final heavily to Dulwich College. Those demons are not so evident for this group though, who have transferred the promise of their younger years to the senior squad, this group won the U15 Cup in 2014 and were runners up in 2015, while the year that just departed were also champions, in 2013.
That big game experience shone through here at Allianz Park, where they came up against a spirited and highly accomplished Felsted side, who had knocked out the likes of Whitgift and St Joseph’s, no less.
In terms of quality there was not a huge gulf between these two sides but that little bit of big game know-how perhaps made the difference, it was already helped see Warwick through tight last 16 and quarter final games against Oundle and QEGS Wakefield, and it could yet prove crucial once more at the end of the month.
Warwick began with two penalties in the opening ten minutes from the flawless Will Tanner, who scored fifteen points and did not miss a single kick despite some tough positions.
Felsted fought back impressively though, for the opening fifteen minutes was dominated by Warwick. A Thomas Walker penalty settled the nerves before tireless openside Greg Oxlade seared over for a lovely try on the twenty minute mark. Walker’s conversion giving his side a 10-6 lead.
If the previous semi final was a fast paced and open encounter, this was a tight and fierce contest. Despite that though there were still tries to come as the lead swung back and forth. Oxlade’s opposite number, Oliver Thorneywork, quickly hit back for his side of the tail of the maul after Warwick had gone to the corner following a succession of Felsted infringement.s
With Tanner’s conversion they were back in the lead, but bang on the stroke of half time Felsted turned the momentum around as they stole a scrum against the head, allowing number 8 and captain Ned Potter to pick up off the base and charge home.
With Walker converting, Felsted took a 17-13 lead into half time, and at that stage it felt as though a second upset of the day was on. An early yellow card in the second half for Felsted played into Warwick’s hands, though, and while Felsted could see out nine of the ten mintues, the final minute of the sin bin period saw a try for Warwick that might haunt Felsted.
Trying valiantly to clear their lines, Felsted dwelled a little too long, and Warwick bounced on the split-second of indecision, charging the kick down for blindside Kieran Curran to score, with Tanner, naturally, converting.
It was these small margins that were going to add up to make the difference, where Felsted were occasionally just a fraction off on their discipline or the odd bit of decision making, Warwick were decisive and clinical – those subtle differences that having experience of playing in front of an enthusiastic and noisy crowd can make.
Enthusiastic and noisy the crowd certainly was, by far and away this was the best crowd of the day, their sides were visibly lifter whenever they pumped up the volume, it was stirring stuff at time.
The Warwick crowd was only going to get louder when, with fifteen minutes left, Tanner banged over another penalty, stretching the lead to six points and forcing Felsted to go searching for tries.
Warwick were startingto close the net tactically, too, pushing kicks into Felsted territory more and more often. In their desperation to get out of their half and to start scoring again, Felsted gave away another penalty, resulting in a trip to the sin bin for captain Ned Potter.
Barley a minute had gone before Warwick had made that extra man count as Thorneywork again barreled his way over from close range to make it a 30-17 lead, with the aid of Tanner’s conversion, meaning Felsted needed two converted tries.
Felsted gave everything in trying to fight back, and there was a glimmer of hope when Warwick full back James McSharry saw yellow for taking the man out in the air, but ultimately the clock fan out on them
In the end though, they will have no complaints, Warwick were outstanding in their game management and accumulation of points. Their understanding of how to play these big games is fantastic, and will be key once again at Twickenham at the end of the month.
They will be hoping that this wonderful group who achieved so much as U15s can go on to replicate that at U18 level and bring home the U18 NatWest Cup for the first time since that superb class of 2008.
Full Time: Warwick 30-17 Felsted
|U18 NatWest Cup Semi Final 2 Teams
|Ned Potter (c)
|Matthew Gilham (vc)