Warwick will defend their U18 Schools Cup title at Twickenham on Wednesday 14th March after a courageous 15-10 win over Whitgift on Tuesday’s semi final at Allianz Park.
These Cup semi finals have been rocked by the weather, moved from Saturday to Tuesday in a late decision on Friday after the Beast from the East proved too difficult to overcome.
These two sides were clearly chomping at the bit to get going, and from the off it was a tense and incredibly combative affair. 0-0 at half time, Whitgift came storming out of the blocks in the second half to take a 10-0 lead. This Warwick side though, so full of character, just refused to be beaten and saved their best rugby for last to turn it around for a 15-10 win.
The half was a brutal 35 minutes of rugby, both sides hammering away and fighting for every inch. 0-0 was no fair reflection of the game though, each had periods of possession deep in opposition territory but the defences simply refused to yield points.The closest anyone got was a narrow penalty miss from Whitgift full back Joe Parks midway trough the half.
No wonder it was tense, both sides have such a proud history in this tournaments, both were chasing a third U18 title, Whitgift after those two famous back to back wins featuring Elliot Daly and co in 2010 and 2011, Warwick seeking to defend their 2017 crown, which came a decade after their previous triumph.
Warwick had perhaps just edged the first half for territory and possession, but as the second half began it was Whitgift that were the side in the ascendancy. Fly half Ed Dunford was controlling field position expertly and his forwards were making some hard yards.
That upsurge in comentum was rewarded 9 minutes into the half when Parkes scored the first points of a game with a well struck penalty. That seemed to lift them even further as they moved to camp on the Warwick line shortly after.
Again and again they punched at the heart of the Warwick defence until eventually tighthead Jonathan Benz-Solomon, whose twin brother Aristot was on the bench, barged over for the opening try of the game.
That try, followed by Parkes’ conversion, gave Whitgift a 10-0 lead and given the nature of the game and the way the momentum had swung to Whitgift, that seemed like an awfully long way for Warwick to come back from.
We should have known better, this group are the reigning champions, and also reached the final as U15s in 2015. They know how to win games of knockout rugby and so often it is simply about hanging in and staying in touch.
Their big forwards started to make inroads, in particular captain and number 8 Tom Fawcett and man of the match in the second row, Will Kelley.
A penalty followed, slotted by fly half Fred Lowe to close the gap. It just swayed the momentum, and with the forwards making the hard yards and Lowe began to grow into the game. Indeed for the final half hour he was the difference his range of passing and pace on the ball handing easy yards to his runners, while his attacking kicking game posed a threat behind the Whitgift defence.
That upsurge led to his side beginning to dominate field position, and that was rewarded through a try for substitute prop Zach Shirley, whodrove over form inches away to bring his side right back into things.
The conversion was missed but it did not really matter, the reigning champions were on the up and there was little that Whitgift could do to stop it. The 2010 and 2011 champions did nothing wrong, but Warwick simply controlled the game, with Lowe again a guiding hand, orchestrating where the ball went, who received it, where they were running. It was impressive rugby intelligence.
It was not all about control though, when the space was there, Warwick exploited it, and with little more than five minutes left, they attacked the space brilliantly, releasing inside centre Kieran Curran down the left hand side to score a glorious try.
Fin Smith converted, and had a chance for more point with a penalty that just went wide. It mattered not, in a game of this context a 15-10 lead felt strong, and so it proved.
Warwick held out despite Whitgift attacking with vigour to the last. Indeed in the last but one play, full back Chris David was sin binned as his deliberate knock-on cut-out the Whtigift overlap.
They went to the corner with the penalty, but Warwick regained possession, and with it sealed their place in the U18 Schools Cup final at Twickenham on Wednesday 14th March.
It ought to be a fantastic occasion, they will line up against old foes QEGS Wakefield. These two rivals met three times in a row in U15 finals from 2013 to 2015, the last of which saw these sides U6th players involved. QEGS won that one 11-7, so will it be a repeat of that 2015 U15 final, or will Warwick make it back to back U18 titles.
Either way we are in for a stunning game of rugby, much like this semi final, which was tense to the last. Both sides played their part, but the character and composure shown by Warwick to come from behind to take the win was the stuff of champions, and outstanding final twenty minutes from the Midlands men.
Full Time: Whitgift 10-15 Warwick
15 Joe Parkes, 14 Malachi Goldson, 13 Ade Lipede, 12, Reece Brown, 11 Charlie Cadogan, 10 Ed Dunford, 9 Rory Hazelton (co-captain), 1 Jacob Morris, 2 Taine Wafstaff, 3 Jonathon Benz-Solomon, 4 Max Greatwood, 5 George Hammond, 6 Oliver Norris, 7 Jake Moonson (co-captain), 8 Harry Dugmore.
Replacements: 16 Lewis Glasspole, 17 Aristot Benz-Solomon, 18 Piers Von Dadadelszden, 19 Harry Breeze, 20 Thibaut Dubois, 21 Jacob Madsen-Jensen, 22 Taino Goviea.
15 Chris David, 14 Harry Spencer, 13 Alex Green, 12 Kieran Curran, 11 Henry Miles, 10 Fred Lowe, 9 Harry Hayward, 1 Max Roberts, 2 Will Scrivens, 3 Alex Sabin, 4 Toby Adlington, 5 Will Kelley, 6 Oliver Thorneywork, 7 Tom MacDonald, 8 Tom Fawcett (captain).
Replacements: 16 Joe Jones, 17 Zach Shirley, 18 Oscar Roberts, 19 Jack Forsythe, 20 Roger Jackson, 21 Fin Smith, 22 Henry Mortimer.