After a close first 40 minutes, Dean Close School comfortably maintained their unbeaten record this term with a powerful final quarter display, to defeat The Royal Grammar School High Wycombe by a 30 point margin.
Only a few schools can claim a better record in Cup competition over the years than RGS High Wycombe, and many well fancied sides have come unstuck at their iconic pitches high in the Chilterns. Although Dean Close were favourites on paper given the schools’ respective records this term, they will have been expecting a tough away game.
Cherry & Whites legend Andrew “Stan” Stanley, now Director of Rugby at the Cheltenham school, has assembled a talented 1st XV squad, many of whom are with the Gloucester Academy. With the great majority of the side still in the Lower VIth, they look likely to be a force next season too. RGS have one of the toughest fixture lists and although losses have outnumbered victories this term, they can still point to wins over the likes of Eton and Hampton.
Having left Surrey in brilliant autumn sunshine, it was a shame to see the skies darkening as I headed north on the M40. Thick cloud was hanging low over the Chilterns, with a risk of rain, as RGS kicked off with the slope advantage. Despite that the visitors enjoyed the early territorial advantage and soon turned that into points, as a well-judged kick by fly half George Barton was gathered by flanker Tom Pearson who touched down in the corner. Barton added the conversion from the touchline.
RGS were quick to respond and, after Dean Close had been penalised, captain Ben Harris took the three points from the tee. Both sides were looking to run the ball and RGS managed to put speedy wing Aaron Bello into space. Although possession was lost at the breakdown, Barton’s attempted clearance kick was charged down and RGS flanker Jay Salmon gathered to score in the corner and give his side the lead.
The Dean Close pack were starting to make use of their size advantage. After RGS had conceded successive penalties and a maul had been set up from the ensuing line-out, the forwards drove close to the line but the ball was spilled forward. RGS coped well with the resulting 5m scrum and No 8 Morris picked up from the base to make some hard yards and relieve the pressure. However another strong Dean Close maul followed by effective pick-and-go work took play back to the RGS line and Pearson crashed over for his second try, Barton converting.
Although Barton soon added a further three points from the tee when RGS were penalised on their 22, RGS looked as if they might reduce the deficit before half-time. A strong break by Harris was followed by a good offload to right wing Burniston, possession was retained and good hands saw play switched left and then right on the Dean Close 22, but the home side were unable to break through.
Half-time: RGS High Wycombe 8-17 Dean Close School
RGS showed straight after the interval that they were still in the game, taking play into the Dean Close half, and once again a charged down attempted clearance kick led to a score. The ball was moved to Bello who broke down the left, before linking with Harris and with scrum half Chilcott on a clear overlap a try looked certain. That proved to be so, but perhaps not as expected, as the ball was not taken to the line but the Referee judged that the try had been prevented illegally and ran under the posts to award a penalty try to the delight of the growing crowd of home supporters, reducing the deficit to two points.
This was to prove the high water mark of RGS’ fortunes as a gradual but inexorable shift in momentum began, with the Dean Close forward pack taking control. First, after driving by the pack, second row Archie Benson plunged over close to the posts, Barton converting. The process was repeated a few minutes later when further pressure inside the 22 culminated in scrum half Toby Pallister diving over, with Barton again adding the extras.
The home side were now struggling – with the slope against them – to break out of their 22, and with good work by Dean Close at the breakdown forcing a penalty, Barton was able to put the ball into the right corner to set up another attacking line-out. The ball came to hooker and captain Ethan Butterfield who had impressed throughout in making hard yards. It seemed that he might force his way over but the defence just held out and RGS were awarded a 5m scrum. Dean Close put in a massive shove and the scrum looked to have been lost but the Referee ordered it to be reset. The process was repeated and this time the ball came back on the Dean Close side, enabling No 8 Josh Gray to pick up and drive to the line. Although he was stopped just short, the ball came back to replacement prop Ezra Nugroho who forced his way over in the corner.
The skies were now unbelievably dark and, with Dean Close (as the away side) now effectively four scores clear, the Referee checked with the coaches that they wished to continue. Having had that confirmation, play continued with another Dean Close try. After a break down the left by Barton had taken play into the corner, a line-out was won and Butterfield drove over from the resulting maul.
RGS were still looking for a consolation score and it seemed that might come after a break by Harris took him into the Dean Close 22. There seemed to be the opportunity to exploit an overlap but he decided to keep ball in hand and was stopped. Although a clearance kick was made, it was run back by full back McDonald and good hands on the right saw Burniston squeeze in at the corner. That might have been a fitting end to the game, but there was just time for a seventh Dean Close try, flanker Huw Longden breaking close to the line and enabling Pallister to score under the posts.
The final score belies how closely fought a contest this was for much of the 70 minutes. RGS battled hard but had to concede to a stronger side: in the final analysis Dean Close just had too much power up front. They now move on, for the South-West Group A final, to another tricky away fixture, with a trip to Salisbury to face last year’s beaten finalists Bishop Wordsworth, which should provide a fascinating match-up.
Full time: RGS High Wycombe 20-50 Dean Close School
RGS High Wycombe: Allen, Gillespie, Fiberesima, Bradshaw, Bowen, Jay Salmon, Umar, Morris, Chilcott, Jobling, Aaron Bello, Thompson, Ben Harris (Capt), Burniston, McDonald
Dean Close School: Kieran Cooper, Ethan Butterfield (Captain), Jonathan Hart, Harvey Dickenson, Archie Benson, Tom Pearson, Huw Longden, Josh Gray, Toby Pallister, George Barton (Vice-captain), Matty Jones, Toby Haines, Johnny Coniam, Toby Hitchins, Elliot Bancroft
Replacements: James Humphreys, Mobolaji Sotande-Peters, Freddie Thomas, Oliver Horne, Monty Lewis, Ezra Nugroho, Fergus Byron Low, Ed Harvey