Hartpury College made it back to back AASE titles on Wednesday at Allianz Park beating Beechen Cliff.
In torrential rain Hartpury played the conditions perfectly to win a really tight game of rugby, having fallen 10-0 behind early on.
For the first time ever, really, Hartpury arrived at the final possibly as slight underdogs. Indeed the only final ever won by a side other than them, Exeter College in 2016, did not feature Gloucestershire men. An injury ravaged season had seen them lose twice in the opening phase of the tournament, including heavily to Beechen Cliff, before only a series of narrow wins in the second phase had taken them to the final. Beechen Cliff, in contrast, have won every game they have played and taken a try-scoring bonus in each game too.
Nevertheless there is something about Hartpury College when they turn up in AASE finals. There is a legacy there to protect, and it is something they take seriously. Nobody wants to let down the legends of the College that have gone before them in this tournament’s decade long history. Sealing the College’s 9th title of the ten available, this group certainly lived up to the past.
It started out though with what must have felt to the watching support like a possible repeat of that big Beechen Cliff victory earlier in the season as number 8 Nahum Merigan went over from close range after just four minutes.
Full back George Worboys converted and added a penalty six minutes later to give the Bath AASE side a 10-0 lead. It was a lead that they would hold on to for some time as they played with a passion and intensity that it was proving hard for Hartpury to match.
Every collision felt closer to an explosion, and though the game was scrappy due to the weather, it was compelling stuff. Hartpury came close through Louis Rees-Zammit, the Welsh age-grade winger, but Beechen Cliff used the wet surface to help tackle him into touch, however as the half time whistle approached, the champions finally broke through via hooker Layton Chambers.
Fly half Tommy Matthews’ conversion missed, but the try had altered the momentum, sending the sides in at the break with Hartpury chasing a 10-5 deficit.
That swing in momentum was carried into the second half brilliantly by Hartpury, who pounced for two early scores through outside centre Sam Grimshaw and blindside Harry Chase, with Matthews converting both for a 19-10 lead.
Beechen Cliff slotted a penalty for 19-13, but when scrum half Stephen Varney scored a scorcher as the game entered the final quarter, running in from 30 metres and dancing around the full back delightfully, Beechen Cliff appeared to be staring down the barrel of the gun. In these conditions, 26-13 seemed too big a mountain to climb.
How naïve we all were. Had we not all previously been talking about the quality of this Beechen Cliff side. Did we not think they would rally? Of course they did, and it was brilliant to witness. First a try came from close range with the game moving into the last five minutes, with Worboys converting. At 26-20 a converted try would now do it.
Back they came, and suddenly everyone in the stadium thought it would happen as Beechen Cliff laid siege to the Hartpury College try line. Everyone, that is, except the Hartpury College defence. Time and time again they repelled the Beechen Cliff attacks, setting camp on their try line a throwing themselves at tackles.
The clock went red, it was do or die for both, and it was Hartpury College that came up trumps, poaching a turnover on their own try line following phase after phase of Beechen Cliff assault.
It could not have been more different to last year’s rout, but in many ways this will be one of Hartpury College’s most satisfying AASE titles. It did not just take quality, it took character. Both sides showed that character, in truth, and Beechen Cliff should be nothing but proud of their efforts and indeed their achievements all season.
For Hartpury, it’s that winning feeling again. Nine titles in ten years. Extraordinary.
Full Time: Hartpury College 26-20 Beechen Cliff
15 Brad Morgan, 14 Max Fletcher, 13 Sam Grimshaw, 12 Isaac Marsh, 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 Tommy Matthews, 9 Stephen Varney, 1 Harry Fry, 2 Layton Chambers, 3 Harry Daynes, 4 Rhidian Lerwell, 5 Archie Tarbuck, 6 Harry Chase, 7 Jack Hewitt, 8 Joe Howard (c).
Replacements: 16 Joel Coughlin, 17 Rowan Mullis, 18 Reuben Williams, 19 James Timony, 20 Jack Goodwin, 21 Lloyd Smith, 22 Josh Phipps, 23 Chey Robertson.
15 George Worboys, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 13 Diego Periel, 12 Ruben Moxham (cc), 11 Owen Dudman, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Hugo Flinn, 1 Archie Stanley, 2 Oliver Bailey, 3 Archie Alexander, 4 Frankie Read, 5 Ethan Staddon, 6 Will Hendy, 7 Cameron Taylor, 8 Nahum Merigan.
Repalcements: 16 Harrison Croker, 17 Tom Jenkins, 18 James Robson, 19 Aidon Higgins, 20 Ayden Chenoweth (cc), 21 Alex Ashton, 22 Ben Hansford-Holt, 23 Oliver Johnson.
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AASE Finals Results:
Beechen Cliff 20-26 Hartpury College – AASE Final – Allianz Park
Truro College 12-24 Exeter College – 3rd Place, Shaftesbury Park
Gosforth Academy 29-12 Oaklands College – 5th Place, Derby RFC
Brooksby Melton College 22-7 Bishop Burton College – 7th Place, Derby RFC
Myerscough College v SGS Filton College – 9th Place, 4pm, Derby RFC
Moulton College 7-46 Henley College – 11th Place, 12pm, Shaftesbury Park
Stourport HS v St Paul’s Catholic College – 13th Place, 4pm, Shaftesbury Park
AASE Final Standings:
1st Hartpury College
2nd Beechen Cliff
3rd Exeter College
4th Truro College
5th Gosforth Academy
6th Oaklands College
7th Brooksby Melton College
8th Bishop Burton College
11th Henley College
12th Moulton College