Warwick School final got their hands on the U18 NatWest Cup trophy a decade after their last title with an utterly superb 27-5 victory over Bishop Wordsworth’s at Twickenham Stadium.
Their last appearance in the U18 final, in 2013, saw them heavily beaten by Dulwich College as they were blown away by a side right at the top of their game. This time it was Warwick who were the side that nailed their performance right from the very first whistle though.
Little wonder, for while that 2013 side was suffering defeat Warwick were building a dynasty at U15 level. They won the U15 title that day, and backed it up a year later, before reaching the final once more the following year. This was the day that those 2014 and 2015 sides matured, for now they are the players that make up this Warwick U18 fifteen.
Boy did they use that Twickenham experience to good effect. While Bishop Wordsworth’s were finding their feet and getting used to the feel of playing in the home of English rugby, Warwick were blasting towards a 19-0 lead after just 22 minutes, buoyed on by a loud and boisterous crowd who were creating an atmosphere inside the ground that exceeded what the full capacity 80,000 is sometimes capable of.
The men in blue and white hoops had hoped to come here and secure an historic U18 and U15 double, a feat achieved just once before, by Wellington College in 2008, however Wellington, ironically enough, had shut the door on that plan with a superb display in the U15 final.
If anything though, that almost seemed to galvanise this U18 group, who looked determined to allow their school to leave this stadium with a 0-2 record.
The sheer intensity of their performance in that opening twenty minutes or so was simply too much for Bishop Wordsworth’s to withstand as they kept firing into the men in the navy blue shirts with a level of intensity that bordered on rage.
Within eight minutes they were across the whitewash through blindside Kieran Curran, powering over after a series of scrums near the Bishop Wordsowrth’s try line left the defending side short of numbers on the left hand side.
Six minutes later Warwick were back at it, sending a huge maul from near the ten metre line to within inches of the Bishop Wordsworth’s try line. As momentum builders go, it was as good as it gets, and when the referee blew his whistle and ran underneath the posts for a penalty try, the Warwick fans erupted. An already charged atmosphere went into fever pitch.
Right wing Will Tanner added the conversion for a 12-0 lead, and eight minutes later he was called into action again as Kyriakos Grammatopoulos, the hooker, went powering over from short range, in similar style to that of Curran for his try, converting for a 19-0 lead.
Just to really turn the screw, Tanner was at it again with the boot two minutes later, banging over a long range penalty for a 22-0 lead.
Interestingly the penalty seemed to signal a change in the game as Warwick moved away from that early intensity, which was always going to be hard to make was for the full 70 minutes, and into a phase of trying to control the game through intelligent game management.
By and large this tactic worked, though it did give Bishop Wordsworth’s a chance to finally have a crack if they could get some field position, which they duly did as the half began to draw towards a close, left wing Chris Nichols doing some brilliant work off the ball to end up on the right wing, finishing brilliantly in the corner after some heavy pressure from his side, narrowing the gap to 22-5 at the half time break.
That same pattern continued after the break, and Bishop Wordsworth’s, to their great credit, really began to stop Warwick at source, forcing the 2007 champions to really grind out their opportunities.
That they did though, plugging away until eventually a hole opened up eighteen minutes in and electric full back Nick David took full advantage, scything through it on a great line to score his side’s fourth try of the game, sending them 27-5 clear.
That was to be the end of the scoring as Warwick, led by the unheralded but superb Nick Rigby, closed out the game in the most professional of manners, whilst their incredibly supporters enjoyed what felt like a fifteen minute victory parade for them.
Hats must be tipped to Bishop Wordsworth’s though, this was a tough day the office for them, but, in the second half particularly, they dug deep into a place that is always hard to go to in those circumstances, turning ball over and putting in the big hits right to the end. Even to get here was a truly magnificent achievement. Warwick are a school accustomed to these Twickenham occasions, for Bishop Wordsworth’s this was a first trip since 1991, they season has been a marvel, and with such a young a talented squad they can certainly be counted among the favourites to return next year.
This was Warwick’s day though, they were superb from start to finish. The intensity of that opening 22 minutes was beyond anything that you are likely to see at school level, epitomized by the abrasive work of man of the match Tom Fawcett at number 8, any school side would have struggled to contain in.
From there it was a real lesson in how to manage a game from a winning position, a job they did well. To win a game in the opening quarter and then manage it from there sounds easy, but the reality is that it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Only a group of highly talented and smart players, who are incredibly well coached, can do it.
In Mark Nasey, Warwick are managed by one of the very best. His time at Warwick as Director of Rugby has been simply outstanding in the success that it has brought and in the level of on field intelligence that his team have shown.
Today was his, and their, crowning glory, and who would bet against them coming back and doing it all over again in the next few years?
Full Time: Warwick 27-5 Bishop Wordsworth’s
15 Paddy Bates, 14 Callum MacTaggart, 13 Cadan Murley (c), 12 Ollie Dykes, 11 Chris Nichols, 10 Joe Tully, 9 Finley Lloyd-Gilmour, 1 Harvey Platt, 2 Archie McEwan, 3 James McDonald, 4 Tom Boxer, 5 Toby Peebles, 6 Xavier Hastings, 7 Jared Cardew, 8 Jamie Ellis.
Replacements: 16 Luke Sainsbury, 17 Kit Goodall, 18 James Kennedy, 19 Charlie Horrell, 20 Mathew Hick, 21 Harry Norris, 22 Charlie Gentleman.
15 Nick David, 14 Will Tanner, 13 James McSharry, 12 Theo Spencer, 11 Alex Green, 10 Ben Harding, 9 Sam Forster, 1 Max Roberts, 2 Kyriakos Grammatopoulos, 3 Nick Rigby (c), 4 Will Fawcett, 5 Ollie Richardson, 6 Kieran Curran, 7 Ollie Thorneywork, 8 Tom Fawcett.
Replacements: 16 Will Scrivens, 17 Chris David, 18 Fred Lowe, 19 Harry Hayward, 20 Jamie Wood, 21 Toby Adlington, 22 Paolo Peschisolido.