Whitgift avenged their defeat to Felsted last year to secure a place in the London & South East A U18 Schools Cup regional final.
They beat the Essex side 11-3 in a hard fought and occasionally tempestuous game to secure their place in the last 16 against Hampton, who last week beat Wimbledon College 59-14 to earn their spot. The winner of that game will head to the quarter finals, where the winners of each of the 8 sections are drawn together.
It was oh so tough getting there though, this London & South East A section has been brutally tough so far, with the likes of KCS Wimbledon and Campion already out of the tournament.
Felsted are the best to fall yet though, they were semi finalists last year, in a run that included that famous win against Whitgift, and have looked just as impressive this year. The sheer number of Academy staff watching on the touchlines as these two met again only served to show what a top end contest this was.
The game was as tight as could be, but from the off Whitgift had the advantage in two key areas, their own ability to run the ball through the phases, and their defensive pressure that did not allow Felsted the same luxury. Felsted looked threatening with the ball in hand but Whitgift did a magnificent job of putting the pressure on so that they could not get the ball through the hands of through a huge number of phases.
An early Joe Parkes penalty gave Whitgift a 3-0 lead, and though they had another missed chance a few minutes later, the opening 20 minutes or so were as tight as can be.
Both sides looked threatening in the fifteen metre channels, but neither could unpick the opposition defence. Slowly though, Whitgift managed to sustain some pressure deep in the Felsted 22. What followed told us of the passion and the quality that was on show.
Again and again Felsted repelled waves of powerful Whitgift attack, but something had to give and eventually a maul with too much momentum to halt was brought down illegally. Knowing the penalty was coming, Whitgift went to the air. Felsted fielded it well, but before their man had come back to earth, he was accidentally upended. Think Elliot Daly against Argentina last year.
Correctly, the referee at first went back to the maul infringement and yellow carded the Felsted number 8, however most would have expected him then to move to the fresh offence for foul play and the resultant card in the opposite direction.
That he did not clearly rankled, but it also drew up something from within Felsted, who in response produced their best rugby of the game. Seeing out that pressure on their own line before clearing their lines and advancing upfield.
As they did, Whitgift soon received a yellow of their own, as they tried to halt the momentum, and Felsted took advantage to move into the 22 before a penalty for offside allowed them to level the game at 3-3.
Whitgift bounced back though, advancing back into the Felsted 22, with scrum half Rory Hazelton a constant sniping threat. This time their momentum felt unstoppable but again Felsted showed great spirit and managed to hold them up.
Wave after wave of attack came though, and eventually the defence simply ran out of numbers as Whitgift loosehead Aristot Benz Salomon powered over to send his side in 8-3 up at half time.
The second half was even tighter, the game became more tactical, both sides realising that they were in a game that would be won by a handful of points. Territory and a kicking game became more important.
Both sides enjoyed long periods of pressure, but Whitgift’s strong defence was becoming a factor. Too often Felsted could not get the ball away from the fly half channel because of the heavy defensive traffic in that area.
As the clock ticked away though, still there was just one score in it. Whitgift were in possession and the Felsted defence was stretched. Still though they scrambled to prevent the try but were offside in doing so. Whitgift’s wide men wanted the ball moved to space, but sensibly fly half Ed Dunford was heard calling ‘two scores’.
How right he was, Parkes slotted the penalty, taking the score to 11-3. It meant that with 6 minutes or so left to play, Feslted had to score twice. As such, time was of the essence, and they rushed to halfway, sending up a high kick off. Unfortunately for the hosts, in their eagerness to regain possession, their hooker, a titan in attack and defence, took his man out in the air, such was his enthusiasm.
This time the referee did go to his pocket, and though Felsted did manage to create some field position and possession, there simply was not enough time to wrestle the game their way.
It truly was a brilliant contest, both sides contributed well but Whitgift were the worthy winners. Their ability to close down Felsted had been key, while their own control of possession in opposition territory had secured almost all of their points for them.
As this tournament moves on, they are going to be a very hard side for anyone to beat.
Full Time: Felsted 3-11 Whitgift
U18 Schools Cup London & South East A Regional Final: Hampton v Whitgift