England U18 opened their account this season with a brilliant 43-14 win over France U18 at Aylesbury RFC.
The young England side scored seven tries in torrid conditions at the Berkshire club, but the 4G pitch and a supremely high skill level allowed them to stick to their fast paced ball-handling game plan, against a French side who seemed to wilt dramatically in the face of the second half pressure and heavy rainful.
Among the stars for England was left wing Cadan Murley. The Bishop Wordsworth’s captain had to miss his school’s stunning U18 NatWest Cup semi final win over back to back champions yesterday in order to play in this game. He would have been disappointed to have had to miss it, but delighted to have seen his side so well yesterday, and he added the icing to the cake at Aylesbury RFC as he bagged a brace, including a stunning try from long range in the second half, capping a brilliant weekend for himself, his school, and his national side.
The game was actually a pretty tense one through the first half and into the first ten minutes of the second. England took a 12-0 lead after fifteen minutes thanks to a try from Harrow full back Elliot Obatoyinbo following good work from his pack, before Murley grabbed his first after a good support line following a brilliant break from Henley College flanker Tom Willis, with Brighton College’s Marcus Smith.
England were trying to play in an expressive manner. As coach Russell Earnshaw has alluded to over the last few weeks, England age-grade sides are encouraged to play beyond the set piece without numbers on their backs. If it sounds like a cliché, it is not meant that way – it is deadly serious. It can come at a cost though as players adapt and try things, and that cost was an interception for France on the twenty minute mark, allowing them to streak away to score, closing the gap to 12-7.
That score really tightened the game up, but some foul play led to a yellow card for their scrum half shortly before the half time break, keeping England 12-7 ahead as the whistle went.
England made some changes at half time, one of which was to bring on former Scotland U16 star Cameron Redpath. The Sedbergh School man had a brilliant half, first at full back and then at fly half. He made his mark almost immediately, finishing off a wonderful line break from fellow sub Iwan Hughes of SGS Filton College to send England 17-7 ahead.
France again hit back though, enjoying probably their most dominant perio of the game as they smashed into the England defence over and over again before they were eventually rewarded with a try through their substitute prop.
At 17-14 it seemed like it was anyone’s game, but with the rain falling ever harder and the benches being unloaded, it was actually a turning point as the very nature of the game changed.
England seemed to go up a level in terms of accuracy, perhaps just settling in and getting used to each other, this is, after all, their first game together, while France seemed sluggish and were starting to slip off tackles.
England capitalised on that with two tries in two minutes, first with substitute flanker Charlie Wright of Exeter College smashing through two would-be tacklers to score, before Murley scored his stunning second. England played the ball through the hands from deep before a dink ahead was gathered by Murley just over the half way line. He then showed a stunning turn of pace to streak down the left hand touchline to score.
Suddenly 17-14 had become 31-14 in a blink, and realistically the game was done and dusted. Six minutes later it really was done and dusted as Dean Close’s Tom Seabrook flew across the line following an inside ball on halfway after some tough work from his pack.
France looked like a beaten team by this point in all honesty, and England kept their foot pressed flat to the floor. The pressure continued to build as they went through the phases in French territory. Eventually they put some width on the ball, and it was Worcester 6th form College’s Ted Hill who was the grateful recipient of the walk-in try.
All the remained was for Redpath to nail the touchline conversion to round off a near perfect day for his side, and so he duly did to give England a dominant 43-14 victory.
It was a brilliant performance from his side, particularly in the second half after they had got through the tiring hard yards of the first half.
Scotland are up next for England on Sunday 12th March, completing a quadruple header Calcutta Cup weekend with the Senior XVs, U20s, Women, and U18s all playing.
England then travel to Wales the following weekend before the U18 International Series in April with fixtures against Canada, Scotland, and Ireland.
Full Time: England U18 43-14 France U18
England U18 XV:
15 Elliot Obatoyinbo (Saracens & Harrow)
14 Tom Seabrook (Gloucester & Dean Close)
13 Oli Morris (Saracens & New Hall)
12 Fraser Strachan (Northampton Saints & Bedford)
11 Cadan Murley (Harlequins & Bishop Wordsworth’s)
10 Marcus Smith (Harlequins & Brighton College)
9 Will Porter (Wasps & Merchant Taylors’)
1 Tom Rowland (Bristol & Bristol Grammar)
2 Will Capon (Bristol & Bristol Grammar)
3 Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs & Exeter College)
4 Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors & Worcester 6th form College)
5 James Scott (Worcester Warriors & Malvern College)
6 Tom Willis (Wasps & Henley College)
7 Sean Reffell (Saracens & Harrow)
8 Sam Moore (Sale Sharks & Sedbergh)
Replacements: 16 Nick Rigby (Worcester Warriors & Warwick), 17 Nic Dolly (Sale Sharks), 18 Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers & Wyggeston & QEI College), 19 Josh Basham (London Irish & Wellington College), 20 Charlie Wright (Exeter Chiefs & Exeter College), 21 Ollie Fox (Yorkshire Carnegie & New College Pontefract), 22 Cameron Redpath (Sale Sharks & Sedbergh), 23 Iwan Hughes (Bristol & SGS Filton College).
England U18 Fixtures:
England U18 43-14 France U18
England U18 v Scotland U18 – Sunday 12th March, Preston Grasshoppers RFC, 2pm kick off
England U18 v Wales U18 – Sunday 26th March, Ebbw Vale RFC, 3.45pm kick off
England U18 v Canada U18 – Saturday 8th April (U18 International Series)
England U18 v Ireland U18 – Wednesday 12th April (U18 International Series)
England U18 v Scotland U18 – Sunday 16th April (U18 International Series)