Monkton Combe School, Bath took an early lead, running in four tries, that proved sufficient to secure a 22-5 victory over Wellington School, Somerset despite the home side dominating possession and territory in the second half.
Both schools entered this game with winning records, Wellington having returned from a successful tour to Ireland and Monkton having gained some useful wins, including a 31-12 win over Kingswood School, on this circuit. Respective records against common opponents in the form of Wycliffe College, defeated by Wellington 17-0 and by Monkton by a 63-10 score, and King’s Bruton, who beat Wellington 7-5 but lost 32-17 to Monkton, made the Bath-based school arguably favourites on paper.
With early cloud having cleared, a brilliantly sunlit autumn afternoon and a well prepared playing surface made for good conditions for running rugby, despite an increasingly chilly easterly wind. The visitors kicked off with the breeze behind them. Wellington No 8 Alfie Hollingsworth ran out to halfway but an injury at the ensuing breakdown caused a lengthy stoppage, which caused the visitors to reorganise their back line, the strong running Konyinsola Okubadejo coming on as replacement left wing. When play resumed Monkton secured possession from the set scrum and excellent handling on the right saw captain and No 8 Archie Murchison crash over in the corner. The touchline conversion attempt fell just short.
A second score seemed likely following the restart, with Okubadejo put clear on halfway but the long pass to him was judged to have gone forward. Although Wellington secured possession from the scrum, a turnover saw the ball come to outside centre Matt Williams who cut through and showed excellent pace to run deep into the right corner. Although he was forced into touch, the lineout ball was stolen by Monkton and flanker Cole Dugdale forced his way over in the corner. Once again the difficult conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
Monkton again looked to create space out wide for Okubadejo with quick hands from the restart, but the left wing was stopped by a big hit from Wellington wing Toby Tisshaw and the home side took play close to the Monkton 22. Unfortunately, a pass was anticipated by Williams who intercepted cleanly and sprinted clear from inside his own half to score under the posts. Inside centre Raph Barberis took over the kicking duties and added the extras.
Wellington, finding themselves three scores down in the space of a few minutes, worked hard to get back into the game, with left wing Ben Bolwell evading tackles to gain field position. The home side started to enjoy some possession but Murchison led the defence well to frustrate attempts to break into the Monkton 22, and after the ball had been turned over it was the turn of the visitors to press. It was again the pace of Williams that created an opening as he took an excellent line before offloading to wing Rory Myers who dived in at the right corner. Although the touchline conversion was unsuccessful, the game was slipping away from Wellington.
The home side redoubled their efforts to get on the scoreboard, Bolwell continuing to prove an elusive runner and full-back Jack Derrick running back clearance kicks to keep play inside the Monkton half. After Wellington had reshuffled their backline, with replacements including English Schools Decathlon gold medallist Jack Turner, Monkton were forced to concede a penalty from which an attacking lineout was set up on the 22. The resulting maul was judged to have been taken down illegally and a well-placed kick to the right corner set up a second lineout. The ball came to hooker Fardin Tajwar who was driven across the line, but the Referee was unable to see if the ball had been grounded and awarded Wellington a 5m scrum. With possession won, Hollingsworth looked to pick up at the base of the scrum but was unable to gather the ball cleanly and Monkton were able to clear.
Half Time: Wellington School 0-22 Monkton Combe
As the second half started the momentum continued to be with the home side, with good line speed frustrating Monkton’s attempts to run any possession. After Okubadejo had been well tackled by Turner, the ball came to Hollingsworth who made ground before finding space with a kick to the left corner. Wellington were able to maintain the pressure and the ball came back to Derrick who carved through the defence to score on the left. Although the conversion attempt was unsuccessful, there was still plenty of time for the deficit to be reduced.
Although the visitors continued to look for openings, they seemed to miss the vision and pace of Williams who had been forced to leave the field shortly before half-time and the increased physicality of the home side kept them at bay. A crooked throw at a Monkton lineout gave Wellington an attacking scrum from which tight head prop George Pocock made a strong carry, breaking through tackles to the 5m line. Play was switched to the left, and although Monkton were able to recover possession, the clearance kick was well fielded by Bolwell and play switched to the right where Tisshaw ran to the 22 to keep up the pressure.
Wellington continued to recycle possession inside the Monkton half, eventually forcing the defence to concede a penalty on the right. Again play was switched to the left but was turned over and the defence was able to clear to half-way. The pressure was not relieved for long, as another attacking scrum on the Monkton 22 gave Wellington an opportunity on the right but the final offload failed to reach its intended recipient. Once again the respite for the defence was temporary, as they were forced to concede a penalty to which the referee added a further 10m for backchat. This gave another excellent scoring opportunity as the forwards drove to the line on the left but once again the defence was judged to have successfully held the ball up.
This was to prove to be Wellington’s final opportunity and Monkton were able to keep play in midfield until the Referee blew for full-time. This was an entertaining game: although it had looked after 20 minutes as if the visitors might run away with it and undoubtedly did enough to deserve the win, Wellington did well to raise their physicality and had opportunities either side of half-time to make the score close, but were unable to convert those into points.
Full Time: Wellington School 5-22 Monkton Combe
Wellington School: Alistair Bett, Fardin Tajwar, George Pocock, Joseph Stevens, Benji Pepperell, Ethan Power, Rhys Parks (Captain), Alfie Hollingsworth, Oli Beckley, Ben Alford, Ben Bolwell, Josh Rowe, Ben Alford, Toby Tisshaw, Jack Derrick
Replacements: Joseph Horne, Bertie Calladine, Freddie Creer, Oliver Blakeman, Jack Turner, A Lark, Ru Schofield, H Nuttall-Owen
Monkton Combe School: Tom Cook, Kabul Gurung, Joseph Crudgington, George Mitchell, Monty Jones, Cole Dugdale, Archie Griffiths, Alex Murchison (Capt.), Max Martindale, Luke Walker, Sam White (Vice-Capt.), Raph Barberis, Matt Williams, Rory Myers, Tomi Adeleye
Replacements: Kyle Beeley, Konyinsola Okubadejo, Tom Griffiths