Hurstpierpoint College established an early lead over Hampton School which proved sufficient to see off a resurgence by the Middlesex school and secure a 34-22 win to become the fourth school to reach the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy.
These two schools operate on different circuits though they both had solid performances at the recent St Joseph’s Festival, where Hurstpierpoint progressed to the Cup groups on Day 2 and, although they were eliminated in a tight group that was dominated by eventual overall winners RGS Newcastle, they held RGS tryless. Hampton had a tough group on Day 1 but ended up winning the Plate. A close game looked to be in prospect.
Despite heavy rain the previous day the pitch was in good nick, investment in the drainage in recent years having evidently paid dividends and with a light breeze and a sunlight afternoon against the beautiful backdrop of the South Downs conditions were good for running rugby. A sizeable crowd included a good contingent from Hampton and the Harlequins Academy management were on hand, no doubt with particular interest in their EPDG members taking the field, Dylan Thomas and James Bourton for Hurst and Louis Lynagh and Jamie Benson for Hampton.
Hampton kicked off into the wind and Bourton gave an early taste of his running skills to move the ball out of defence and was then on target from the tee to give the home side took an early lead when Hampton were penalised. A second score soon followed when the visitors were again penalised twice in quick succession. With the second penalty deep in the right corner a kick to touch to set up the maul seemed the likely tactic but Hurst took a quick tap and No 8 Fraser Falzon crashed over in the corner, Bourton converting from wide out.
It was then the turn of the home side to concede a penalty in their own half and Benson’s kick to the left corner saw a maul set up from the ensuing lineout. That was well defended and play was shifted to the backs as Hampton looked to bring Lynagh’s incisive running into the game, but he was well marked and a pass was intercepted by right wing Stan Robinson who ran into space before kicking to relieve the pressure.
Although Hampton again showed good handling, Benson combining with wing Patrick Silcox on the left, a turnover enabled Hurst to clear to half way. Winning a lineout there, Hurst again brought Bourton into the game and he made ground down the left before putting in a well weighted grubber which the defence were forced to carry over to concede a 5m scrum. With possession won it was no surprise to see the ball come back to Bourton and he had just enough momentum to be able to stretch to get the ball down under the posts and add the simple conversion.
Hampton needed to get the next score before the game got away from them and they duly delivered. After winning a penalty and the ensuing lineout, the ball was quickly switched to Lynagh in space on the right. Running from deep a combination of stepping and a textbook hand-off saw the Hampton captain break to the Hurst 22, where, although he was finally stopped, he offloaded to wing Felix Boardman who was well positioned to take the ball at pace and dive over in the right corner. Benson’s touchline conversion attempt was well struck but fell just short.
With Hampton finally getting on the board a change in momentum began to become apparent, but Hurst were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over when Hampton were penalised and Bourton was successful with the long range kick at goal. The remainder of the first half saw a period of largely unbroken dominance of possession and territory by Hampton. Successive penalties conceded by Hurst saw Hampton set up attacking lineouts, from the second of which a maul was set up. When that was stopped and play switched to the backs the Hurst defence put in some big hits to keep the runners out but were forced to concede another penalty, and again a driving maul in the right corner looked likely to deliver a score. This was stopped and the ball taken to ground: the Hampton players and supporters were hopeful of another penalty being awarded but Referee Phil Bowers judged that the defence were not responsible for the collapse and awarded a scrum to Hurst.
Although good work by Bourton and fly half Harry Nelson enabled Hurst to clear to half way, Hampton were immediately back into the 22 with a powerful break by No 8 Nicholas Bitzakidis who then put in a grubber. Second row Daniel Crook did well to rescue the loose ball and relieve the immediate threat, but Hampton had one more chance to threaten the Hurst line after full back Matt Bridger had been forced to hold on at the breakdown. Winning another lineout in the right corner Hampton retained possession but were met by stern defence, though yet another penalty was conceded which drew a warning from Mr Bowers. Some light relief to the tense atmosphere on the touchline was brought by the ensuing kick to touch making very solid contact with a van passing in the adjacent road, but Hampton were again unable to convert the opportunity as the ball was knocked on at the lineout and Mr Bowers blew for half time.
HT: Hurstpierpoint College 20-5 Hampton
With Hampton turning round with the wind and slope advantage Hurst knew that the pressure was likely to continue. This time the visitors were able to turn that into points. With excellent ball retention play was moved both ways inside the Hurst half and it was again Lynagh’s strong running that made the difference and he broke through to score on the left, Benson converting.
With the deficit reduced a close game looked likely to ensue, but Hurst were not finished. After some kicking exchanges Nelson broke to the Hampton 22 and although he was stopped an excellent pick-up from the ensuing ruck by Falzon saw the No 8 run close to the line, before offloading to Bourton who scored under the posts and added the extras himself.
Bourton was also the initiator of the next score, making ground on the left and offloading to wing Joe Routledge. Again a grubber to the line gave Hurst a 5m scrum in the left corner. With quick ball won from the set piece play was moved to the backs and, with a dummy run by Bourton wrong-footing the defence, left wing Joe Routledge threw a beautifully weighted long pass to right wing Stan Robinson who outpaced the cover defence to score in the corner. Bourton continued his impressive form from the tee by landing the touchline conversion.
These two scores in quick succession looked decisive but Hampton set about reducing the deficit in determined fashion. Their tasked was eased when a tip tackle, which looked clumsy rather than malicious, was punished by Mr Bowers showing yellow to reduce Hurst to 14 men. As second card looked a possibility when a deliberate knock-on boke up a threatening move on the 22, but advantage was played and good hands saw play switched to the left where an overlap was created for Silcox to score in the corner, The conversion attempt was unsuccessful but with close to ten minutes still on the clock a dramatic finish was not impossible.
Further multiple phases with Hampton in possession saw Hurst forced to concede a penalty inside their half but Benson’s kick towards the left corner was carried beyond the dead ball line by the breeze. Hurst worked hard to keep possession with flanker Andrew Fadera making some hard yards and Thomas a break, but a knock-on saw possession come back to Hampton. After Lynagh had made the initial run, play was again taken up into the Hurst 22 and a charged down clearance kick gave Hampton a real chance. Although a chip over the top from Benson was fielded by the defence, little ground was made with the clearance kick to touch, giving Hampton an attacking lineout on the left. This was won and the ball kept in the forwards with Bitzakidis crashing over to score. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
With four minutes left another quick Hampton score would have made for a nail biting finish. Hurst were now back at full strength, though the tension was heightened by complaints from the Hampton bench that Hurst had 16 players on the pitch: the touch judge could be seen relaying that issue by radio and the withdrawal of an injured player to the in goal area seemed to resolve matters. Two more strong runs by Lynagh gave a glimmer of hope but he was well tackled and with the ball going out of play as time ran out Hurst were able to celebrate a famous victory.
Hampton will (rather like St John’s in their game with Epsom two days before) no doubt have reflected on the early points conceded and the failure to score from all the pressure that they had enjoyed before half time. Hurst played with great intensity and Bourton was my man of the match.
Full Time: Hurstpierpoint College 34-22 Hampton
Hurstpierpoint will now host Epsom College in the semi finals after the draw was made at lunchtime on Friday, you can see the full draw and quarter final roundup here: Champions Trophy semi final draw.
Hurstpierpoint College: Thomas Johnson, Dylan Thomas (captain), Jack Douglas-Smith, Daniel Crook, James Pearson-Miles, Andrew Fadera, Tom Fisher, Frazer Falzon, Luke Heath, Harry Nelson, Joe Routledge, James Bourton, Rory Adams, Stan Robinson, Matt Bridger.
Replacements: Will Fursdon, Henry Duffield, Chris Preen, Sam Hall, Freddie Longley, Josh Loach, Adam Crook.
Hampton: Alex Boag, George Price, Theo Johnson, Arthur Thomas, James Thompson, Tommy Nagle, Archer Chilcott, Nicholas Bitzakidis (Vice-Capt.), Ed Lord, Jamie Benson, Patrick Silcox, Fergus McWilliams, Aidan Barry, Felix Boardman, Louis Lynagh (Capt.).
Replacements: Christopher Gilmour, Felix Simmons, Harry Wright, Jack Berg, Luke Greenall, Louis Goodwin, Joe Wheeler.