U15 Cup holders Whitgift School came from behind several times to maintain their unbeaten record this season and overcame Millfield School 32-22 in a Quarter-Final of the highest quality
This was a match-up that would have made for a decent final, with Millfield’s only defeat having come at the hands of Whitgift in the block fixture back in November. Thankfully this game was scheduled just before the arrival of the snow and the Bigside pitch was in excellent condition, though the spectators were braving a cold wind but with thankfully only a short spell of light rain.
Millfield, with the slope advantage, had the first period of possession following the kick-off, but solid Whitgift defence eventually forced a kick to the corner which was run back by Whitgift who won a penalty on the left. This was kicked to touch and with the line-out won the home side unsurprisingly looked to deploy their very efficient driving maul. The Somerset side however had clearly done their homework and managed to disrupt the maul, forcing a turnover.
With Millfield clearing to touch, the process was repeated with the maul once again legally disrupted. Good pursuit of a kick by Millfield fly half Harris forced a turnover on the Whitgift 22, but the ball went forward and Whitgift were able to clear from the ensuing scrum. Although the speedy Millfield wings Wahab and Sultan-Edwards combined well to bring play back to half way, another Whitgift scrum gave them possession. From the set piece, centre Barney Kember found a great line to slice through the defence and, although he was finally stopped just short of the line by the cover defence, possession was retained and forward pressure in the right corner ended with prop Lewis Chin-You forcing his way over for the opening score. The touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The visitors responded almost immediately. A penalty on half way gave Millfield the chance to kick to the corner and, although centre Carson’s kick did not find touch, a knock-on gave Millfield an attacking scrum on the left. No 8 Jenkins picked up from the base and made the first of his many strong runs throughout the game before offloading to the backs, and the ball was moved to the right corner where the defence were forced to concede a penalty. This was taken quickly and Wahab squeezed in at the corner to level the scores. Carson’s touchline conversion attempt was beautifully struck but just missed.
Momentum stayed with the Somerset school following the restart, as effective chasing of a kick to the Whitgift 22 forced another turnover and pressure in the left corner forced the defence to concede a penalty. This was kicked to touch and, after further hard yards had been made by Jenkins, effective use of the pick-and-go tactic saw flanker Ingham dive over to put Millfield in the lead, extended further by Carson’s excellent touchline conversion.
A clearance kick to touch by Millfield from outside their 22 gave Whitgift an attacking lineout on the left. This time the maul made some progress and when the ball came back to Kember he again got across the gain line. With possession retained, the ball was moved to the right and flanker Mikey Crump crashed over. Captain Seb Driscoll’s conversion levelled the scores at 12-12.
Although Whitgift made an effective exit from the restart, with scrum half Han Declercq’s box kick taking play to the Millfield 22, a late tackle on the full back as he kicked to clear gave Millfield a penalty in midfield which was kicked to the left corner. Possession was won and play was taken to midfield 5m out. Following an injury stoppage Millfield were awarded a scrum, from which the ball was moved through the hands to Sultan-Edwards who dived in at the left corner. With a change of kicker forced by an injury to Carson, the touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful but the visitors were back in front.
With half-time approaching and facing the prospect of playing up the slope after the interval, Millfield will have wished to retain their lead, but the home side just had time to deny them. After a good run on the left by wing Liam Cobley followed by forward pressure, the defence were forced to concede a penalty, kicked to touch in the left corner. The ensuing maul proved unstoppable with hooker Haydn Rees getting the ball down to level the scores.
Half-time: Whitgift 17-17 Millfield
After a Whitgift clearance kick had been run back and a strong carry by replacement prop Williams, further pressure by the Millfield forwards took play close to the line and Williams crashed over in the left corner to put his side back into the lead. Harris’s conversion attempt hit the post but stayed out.
Whitgift were quick to respond. After smooth handling on the left had given good field position, the ball was again moved through the hands to the right and Cobley squeezed in at the corner. The touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful. Momentum was now back with the home side, with further good handling by the backs taking play back into the Millfield half. After a clearance kick had been charged down, Millfield were forced to concede a line-out close to their line, and once again it was Rees at the back of the ensuing maul who got downward pressure in the left corner to put his side back into the lead for the first time since the opening minutes.
After a succession of kicks Whitgift fly half Jamie Flatley produced several mazy runs to threaten another score, but Millfield were able to clear. After Whitgift were penalised for illegally stopping a maul, further strong carrying by Williams took play up to the Whitgift 22 but the defence were able to force play into touch. With line-out possession won the Whitgift forwards worked the ball towards half way where they won a penalty, kicked to touch on the Millfield 10m line. After the early setbacks the Whitgift had shown good resolve to sort out their driving maul which was now proving really effective, and play was taken up to the right corner where an attacking scrum was awarded. An immediate score seemed likely but the defence forced a turnover and the clearance kick made, but well run back by Flatley to the right corner. Although the ball was initially lost, another turnover saw the ball come back to Cobley who dived in at the corner for his second try, and Whitgift successfully played out the remaining minutes.
This game was a brilliant advertisement for U15 Cup Rugby, between two of the strongest sides in the country. Whitgift’s game management and fitness levels in the final 20 minutes were most impressive: this was very much a team effort with good balance between forwards and backs, and they will take some stopping at Allianz Park. Millfield will have been entitled to contemplate the long journey with their heads held high, having played their part in a really excellent game.
Full Time: Whitgift 33-22 Millfield
Whitgift School: Toby Leake, Haydn Rees, Lewis Chin-You, Charlie Ashton, Max Hubrich, Mikey Crump, Edward Miller, Seb Driscoll (Capt), Han Declercq, Jamie Flatley (Vice-Capt), Liam Cobley, Barney Kember, Struan Fotheringham, Daniel Ikezue-Clifford, Matheus Nudelman
Replacements: Archie Ball, Isaac Kemp, Sury Rana, Luca Petrenko, Marcus Handley, Sam Bourke, Sebastian Pilkington, Casper Lewis
Millfield School: E Nixon, S Curwen, E Baker, A McKibben, J Brooks, A Ingham, O Wood, M Jenkins, L Martindale, S Harris, J Wahab, H Carson, K Bird, A Sultan-Edwards, J Denmark
Replacements: G Gabashvili, O Smith, A Richard, T Williams, F Richmond-Kilpatrick, M Nowak