Royal Grammar School Guildford took a closely contested first round tie of the Champions Trophy, overcoming tenacious defence by Bryanston School
Both of these schools had progressed through the first round of this competition last year with away wins, RGS putting out 2016 champions Tonbridge with a strong second half performance, while Bryanston won a nail-biting tie against Monmouth by a single point. This was a classic match-up in the Champions Trophy with the teams coming from different circuits and not having played each other at 1st XV level for at least a couple of decades.
There can be few more attractive venues that RGS’ Bradstone Brook ground, in the lee of the North Downs, overlooked by the iconic Church of St Martha’s-on-the-Hill, on a sunny early autumn afternoon, and the pitches looked in beautiful condition. Thankfully earlier rain had cleared but a stiff westerly breeze was blowing across the field as the visitors kicked off and won an early penalty on the RGS 10m line which gave the Dorset side the chance to get on the scoreboard, but their No 10’s well-struck kick was pushed just wide by the wind.
The RGS forward pack then started to stamp their authority on the game, winning successive penalties which allowed them to set up driving mauls and take play close to the Bryanston line. Good defence then forced play back outside the 22, but another penalty was conceded within kicking range. Inside centre Luke Wyllie’s attempt from the tee was just wide and Bryanston were able to break out with their powerful No 8 the main ball carrier. The respite was short lived as forwards and backs combined well on the left for RGS to drive close to the line, but the ball went forward. Although Bryanston had the put-in to the ensuing 5m scrum, the RGS back put on an impressive shove and took possession but again the defence held firm.
Although Bryanston were able to clear to half way, they conceded another penalty which allowed RGS to set up an attacking lineout on the 22 and renew pressure on the line. After good work by the forward pack, who were looking dominant at the set piece, play was switched right and although wing James Pyper was stopped in the corner by a cover tackle he offloaded to centre Matt Curtis who crashed over for the opening score. Wyllie’s touchline conversion attempt was well struck but unsuccessful.
The restart was secured by RGS with No 8 Chris Ratcliffe making some hard yards, but Bryanston were at last able to gain a period of sustained possession within the RGS half. With the wind making handling difficult it was no surprise to see both sides going to their kicking game, and from a long kick to the left corner that the defence were forced to take dead the Dorset based school had an attacking 5m scrum. Once again the controlled power of the RGS pack took possession against the head and Ratcliffe carried from the base to relieve the immediate pressure, but a penalty was conceded on the 22. The Bryanston fly half went for the three points but again the wind proved tricky and the ball hit the right post and stayed out.
It looked as if the interval would arrive without further addition to the score when RGS were able to fly hack the ball beyond half way, but a long kick from the Bryanston No 10 saw RGS penalised on their 10m line and this time his kick from the tee bisected the posts.
Half time: RGS Guildford 5-3 Bryanston
A knock-on shortly after the restart allowed the RGS forwards to win a scrum on the 22 and take play deep into the left corner. The ball was then moved through the hands to the right and Wyllie squeezed in at the corner. With the 50% Rule being properly applied by both sides there were regular changes in personnel, and replacement centre Tommy Roberts took over place kicking duties. His touchline kick defied the wind to stretch his side’s lead to 9 points.
Momentum was now with the home side, with Bryanston struggling to win their own ball at the line-out, and when the ball was overthrown Curtis broke through in midfield to take play into the 22 before offloading to fly half Joey McMurray who outpaced the defence to score in the corner. Although Roberts was unable to repeat his touchline conversion the game was now slipping away from the visitors. With the continued windy conditions frustrating attempts to move the ball through the hands a period of quiet ball retention by RGS looked as if it would see them safe, but the penalty count started to mount against them and they found themselves a man down when the referee showed yellow. Despite that RGS seemed about to make the game safe, taking play up to the Bryanston line but they were held up and, although the ensuing 5m scrum was won, they were kept out by more tenacious defence. Bryanston made great efforts to reduce the margin but were unable to get create any scoring opportunities.
Full time: RGS Guildford 17-3 Bryanston
By Peter Crawshaw
Anish Goel, Harry Foster, Harvey Brooks, George Sherwin, Sam Warren, Jonny Gathercole, Will Hand, Chris Ratcliffe, Will Perceval (Capt), Joey McMurray, Charlie Vincent, Luke Wyllie, Matt Curtis, James Pyper, Henry Turrell
Replacements: Jamie Stratford, Tommy Roberts, George Ball, Nick Andrews, Harry Blandford, Roy Brett, Ollie Tyndale