Whitgift School were kept within range at half time by a spirited performance from The Howard of Effingham School, before the strength of their bench enabled them to pull away in the second half to record a 43-8 victory
Whitgift U15s have been semi-finalists in this competition several times in recent years but have not reached the final since 2003 (with Danny Cipriani in the side). This year’s side has got off to a strong start, with block fixture wins over two of the sides that have recently thwarted them at the Cup semi-final stages, Warwick and Wellington (last season’s finalists). Howard of Effingham School were undoubted underdogs for this game, but, with their having defeated perennial rugby powerhouse RGS Guildford 22-21 in the previous round, as well as racking up 62 points against City of London Freemen’s in the first round, there was enough of a hint of a huge upset to make this fixture, played at Cobham RFC, and intriguing one.
The Howard started the game the more energetic of the two sides, taking play deep into the Whitgift half and winning several penalties, but were unable to turn the territorial advantage into points and eventually the pressure was lifted. The Whitgift forward pack is a powerful unit, with second row Malachi Omari contributing a considerable physical presence, and they soon started to make their weight tell before the ball was released to the backs and right wing Freddie Greene dived over in the corner to open the scoring. Fly half Eoin Finn’s touchline conversion attempt hit the post but stayed out.
A second Whitgift score was not long in following, set up and finished by the Whitgift pack. After The Howard had been penalised at a maul, Finn put the ball into the left corner and from the ensuing line-out the forwards drove prop Lucas Bibb over the line for the try, and Finn was successful with a well struck touchline conversion.
The Howard responded with tenacity to going two scores down, with scrum half Riley Winter providing impetus to his forwards. After Whitgift had been penalised for a high tackle, a line-out was set up in the left corner. With possession secured, the Howard forwards drove close to the line, before play was switched to the backs and full back Harry Campbell cut through to score out wide on the left. Campbell took the conversion himself but the kick was just off target. Further good ball retention by The Howard after the restart saw Whitgift penalised again and Campbell stepped up to secure the three points from the tee.
Conceding these two scores sparked Whitgift into action. Winning the restart, good hands saw play taken deep into the right corner and a couple of plays later full back Theo Saitch dummied his way over for his side’s third try. The Howard’s woes were compounded when the referee showed yellow for an attempted trip on Saitch (no doubt an instinctive reaction rather that an indication of any malicious intent).
Half time: The Howard of Effingham School 8-17 Whitgift School
Territory and possession continued to be fairly even as the second half began, and it was soon Whitgift’s turn to be reduced to 14 men when yellow was shown for a high tackle, and The Howard again secured good field position, taking play within 5 metres of the Whitgift line. However, the strength in depth of the Whitgift squad was starting to tell as replacements coming off the bench made their mark, with prop Piero Noah and centre Connor Slevin particularly catching the eye. Noah made hard yards on two effective carries and capped those off with a try under the posts, Finn converting.
Play was now opening up and this created opportunities for the athletic Whitgift backs. First, an overlap was created for Jack Hawkins and the left wing crossed. After checking the grounding, the referee awarded the try and Finn’s conversion was adjudged good. Although The Howard got back into the Whitgift half after their fly half had run back a kick, Noah’s play at the breakdown in the loose was making a difference and the prop again broke through tackles to claim his second try, Finn converting. The Whitgift backs were now rampant and after excellent handling had taken play into the left corner, the ball was moved quickly to the right, and replacement wing Fola Adedeji outpaced the defence to score a late try.
The final score belies how closely contested this game was beyond the interval. The Howard’s players faced up well to the physical challenge posed by the bigger Whitgift forwards and tackled valiantly. They have some strong runners and one can appreciate how they delivered their results earlier in the competition. Whitgift have a well-balanced side this year that will take some stopping. The next round should provide another interesting contest, as they will face the winners of next Thursday’s tie between two other currently undefeated sides, their “brother” school in Croydon, Trinity School, and Langley Park School.
Full time: The Howard of Effingham School 8-17 Whitgift School
Schools Rugby Correspondent
The Howard of Effingham School: Alex Buhler, Joe Curtis, Jack Collett, Ethan West, Dan Kearl, Lucas Elliott, Ben Shields, Matt Johnson, Riley Winter, Harry Campbell, Ollie McVeigh, Bailey Donnell, Harry Condliffe Jude Easom, Ali Reed
Replacements: Tom Cobb, Leo Martin, Josh Raffaelli, Max Sandford, Chris Rolfe, Ollie Hudson, George Lemmer
Whitgift School: Pierre-Loic Pennaneac’h, Nathanael Adegoke, Lucas Bibb, Malachi Opara, Oliver Matthews, Omari Malcolm, Rory St Clair Alcock, Angus Sheahan, Tristan Faillenet (Capt), Eoin Finn (Vice-Capt), Jack Hawkins, Edward Volley, Gon Declercq, Freddie Greene, Theo Saitch
Replacements: Piero Noah, Jack Sharpe, Reis Norman, Seb Stavri, Jake Murray, Connor Slevin (Vice-Capt), Fola Adedeji