Blundell’s School showed clinical finishing and resisted second half pressure from St Paul’s School to record a 15-6 win, the decisive try coming in the final quarter.
The 2017 runners up must be getting used to making the long journey from North Devon to Surrey, having in this competition drawn away fixtures at Epsom four years in a row and at St John’s Leatherhead in 2018. This time they made another early start to get to the iconic setting of the St Paul’s pitches on the South Bank of the Thames. Both sides had had mixed starts to their seasons, with a couple of good wins balanced by losses to strong opposition, so a tight contest was in prospect between two sides from totally different circuits.
Conditions were ideal, as the visitors kicked off in sunshine with a light breeze coming off the river and the playing surface looking great. An early penalty conceded by St Paul’s gave Blundell’s the chance to set up an attacking line-out on the right inside the 22. Although that was lost, the clearance kick to touch gave Blundell’s as second chance and this time they were able to make use of the set piece, winning possession and moving play through the hands to midfield. A strong carry by powerful tight head prop Nathan Karea (younger brother of the Man of the Match in the 2017 final) got them across the gain line and further forward pressure saw play switched to the right, where No 8 Harrison Sime crashed over in the corner. Full back Thomas Putt’s touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The home side threatened to respond straight from the restart, winning turnover ball and moving the ball through the hands to the right, where wing James Street was stopped by good cover tackling just short of the line. The defence were penalised and an attacking line-out set up. The inevitable maul was successfully stopped, but continued pressure on the line looked likely to produce a try when a 5m scrum was awarded as the defence prevented the grounding. However the ball was knocked on at the base of the scrum and, with Blundell’s then having the put-in, St Paul’s were penalised at the set piece and pressure was relieved.
Both sides struggled to establish a pattern of play, with a series of infringements, but the home side retained territorial advantage, aided by a couple of Blundell’s kicks to touch going out on the full. From the second of these, wing Thomas White found some space on the left showing excellent pace. Possession was retained, flanker George Lyons making ground in midfield, where Blundell’s were again penalised and drew a warning from the referee. St Paul’s elected to take the points and fly half Finlay Bell was successful from the tee.
Blundell’s looked to create another scoring opportunity from the restart, Karea again making some hard yards before centre Boris Ames and wing Joseph Du Gay combined on the left, but a forward pass allowed St Paul’s to clear. After both sides had conceded penalties, the Devon side managed to take play back to the St Paul’s 22, with centre and captain Will Kennaugh carrying strongly, and a penalty was conceded by the defence in front of the posts. The kick from the tee, wing Wilf McCarthy taking over the kicking duties, wasn’t pretty but the three points were secured.
A third kick to touch out on the full gave St Paul’s one last chance to score before half time, giving them an attacking line-out on the left. Centre Luke Scott broke through to the 5m line but, although possession was recycled, the defence was tenacious and eventually another penalty was conceded for holding on.
Half-time: St Paul’s School 3-8 Blundell’s School
St Paul’s began the second half in determined fashion, forcing Blundell’s to concede successive penalties, the second of which resulted in yellow being shown. Advantage was soon taken of the man advantage, White again stepping his way through, and Street then making ground on the right. The defence was forced to concede a penalty in front of the posts and Bell again took the three points.
After exchanges of kicks St Paul’s maintained the territorial advantage, winning a scrum on the Blundell’s 22, but, after picking up from the base, were again penalised for holding on at the breakdown. Both sides were finding it hard to string together successive phases but Blundell’s managed to find the composure to create another scoring opportunity. Winning a scrum, the ball was moved to McCarthy who found a good line to break into the 22 Play was taken on by the forwards and the pick and go tactic took play up to the line, where Karea forced his way over to score in the right corner. Fly half Oliver Lowe, taking over the kicking duties, produced an excellent kick to put the visitors two scores clear.
With the number of vocal spectators on the touchline building, an absorbing and noisy finish to the game ensued. St Paul’s looked likely to pull back a try almost immediately, with Scott breaking into the left corner, but he was unable to get the ball to the unmarked White and Blundell’s were able to clear. The respite was brief, as St Paul’s won a line-out on the left and when play was switched to the right Blundell’s were forced to concede a penalty. The decision to go for the points was clearly the right one with two scores needed and a good ten minutes still on the clock, but Bell’s kick was just wide.
St Paul’s kept up the pressure, running back the drop-out and a well weighted kick from Bell won an attacking line-out on the right. With that won and play switched left, White again had the chance to show his pace but the cover defence was again able to stop him in the corner. Blundell’s again cleared to half way but conceded a scrum from which St Paul’s again moved the ball through the hands and were stopped by a high tackle. Again the decision was made to go for the three points but Bell’s kick from the tee was unsuccessful.
To the dismay of the St Paul’s supporters Blundell’s conceded further penalties and a second yellow was shown. With time running out St Paul’s were now in search of a try, but were unable to convert possession and territory into a score and finally the referee blew for full time.
This was in many ways a classic Cup encounter, at times error strewn as the pressure of the occasion took its effect on both sides, but nonetheless exciting. St Paul’s will probably feel that they created enough chances to have won the game, but the Blundell’s defence was excellent and their finishing clinical. It will have been a happy though tired group that eventually made it back to Devon on the coach.
Full-time St Paul’s School 6-15 Blundell’s School
By Peter Crawshaw
St Paul’s School: Brandon Chau. Freddie Harrison, Luke Biamonti, Ben Pymont, Tom Elway, Henry Hastie, George Lyons, William Evans, Archibald Turley, Finlay Bell, Thomas White, Freddie Eltringham, Luke Scott, James Street, Daniel Whiley
Replacements: Freddie Sims, Harry Finlay-Brothers, Oliver Slot, Zinny Diabate, Aidan Atkinson
Blundell’s School: Harry Charlesworth, Tommy Ryder, Nathan Karea (Vice-Capt), Joe Hancock, Tom Reynolds, George Alvis, Theo Rees, Harrison Sime, Alexander Curtis, Oliver Lowe, Joseph Du Gay, Will Kennaugh (Capt), Boris Ames, Wilf McCarthy, Thomas Putt
Replacements: William Grubb, Joe Horsey, Oliver Wright, James Hutton, Leo Dummett