Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood maintained their unbeaten record this term, resisting a strong second half comeback by Reading Blue Coat School, to record a 21-10 victory under lights.
The Merchant Taylors’ School Rugby Week includes close to 30 games played over four evenings on adjacent pitches, using portable floodlights and featuring a wide range of participating schools, including partner prep schools and girls’ schools. MTS had also taken on sides from Mil Hill and Skinners’ (a long standing, Livery Company inspired, rivalry). The climax on the Friday night was 1st and 2nd XV games against Reading Blue Coat School. A chilly evening with frequent heavy showers made for difficult handling conditions but did little to dampen the enthusiasm of a large and vocal crowd.
The home school’s 1st XV side have been enjoying a successful season with a 100% record including recent wins over Aylesbury GS and St Benedict’s and with several players featuring in Wasps or London Irish Academies. Reading Blue Coat, playing on a slightly different circuit, went out early in the National U18 Cup to Abingdon but are now enjoying a run in the U18 Plate, with wins over Marlborough and Pangbourne.
After Reading had kicked off into the wind and rain, MTS were forced to reshuffle their line-up following an early injury, with Wasps U17 Academy player Aaron Florestein moving from the back row to centre and Toby Wickham stepping up to fly-half. Despite that the home side made good use of having the wind at their backs to dominate territory and possession in the opening quarter and setting up an attacking line-out on the left. Reading were able to clear briefly but MTS ran that back with an excellent break on the left by full back Dylan Flanagan, before switching play to the right. With possession retained, N0 8 Harvey Lidstone cut through to score under the posts, Wickham converting.
Reading were quick to respond, winning a penalty on half way and setting up an attacking line-out in the left corner. With possession won, the Reading forwards pressed close to the MTS line, but the defence held firm, eventually forcing a knock- on and MTS were able to clear from the scrum, with Florsetein carrying up to the 22. Another penalty against MTS gave Reading a line-out on the MTS 22, but the throw was judged not straight.
The home side began to reassert dominance of possession and territory with Florestein again making some hard yards and Flanagan running back a clearance kick, but the difficult conditions frustrated efforts to move the ball through the hands. Another break on the left saw MTS back on the 22 and use of the pick-and-go tactic by the forwards took play to the left corner, but when play was switched to the right the ball was lost forward and Reading were able to clear from the scrum. That respite was brief when MTS moved the ball through the hands on the right, taking play deep into the 22 and with possession retained the ball came to Florestein who crashed over for the second try, Wickham again adding the conversion.
Reading were quick to strike back with a rare but effective visit to the MTS 22. Repeated thrusts by the forward pack in the left corner were met by spirited defence but finally flanker Kieran Burgess forced his way over to score. Fly half Sam Jolly’s touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful. MTS came close to extending their lead before having to face the elements after the interval, with good work by Florestein and Wickham taking play to within 5m of the Reading line, but possession was lost.
Half-time: Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood 14-5 Reading Blue Coat School
MTS went to their bench with Wasps U16 Academy player Daniel Odejinmi coming on the wing and he soon demonstrated his pace, but Reading forced a penalty in midfield. Both sides were looking to their kicking game and Reading scrum half Thomas Price was making especially good use of the wind, getting good height on his box kicks and pinning MTS inside their 22. Pressure by the Reading forwards took play close to the line but the final pass did not go to hand. Pressure was maintained and successive penalties given up by the defence. Finally the referee went to his pocket and Florestein was shown yellow.
With the penalty kicked to the left corner and possession won at the set piece, a Reading maul towards the posts was topped by tenacious defence, but the home side continued to struggle to clear beyond half way. After good recycling of possession by Reading, an attempted clearance kick by MTS was charged down and hooker Josh Harris touched down in the corner. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The momentum was now firmly with the visitors, with Price continuing to run the show, both with his kicking game and making ground on the short side from a scrum on the 22. Reading were camped on the MTS 22, winning another penalty but eschewing the chance to go for the points, choosing instead to set up a line-out on the left and making good ground from the ensuing maul. A try seemed likely, but the MTS defence was tenacious and excellent work at the breakdown by hooker and captain Oliver Gilbert forced a penalty, so Reading came away empty handed after a period of sustained pressure.
This time MTS cleared to half way and, following a line-out on the left, the game took another dramatic twist. Scrum half Dylan Byrne produced a classic break, eluding the back row and outpacing the would-be cover tacklers to score in the corner. Wickham’s kick was beautifully struck and the lead was stretched to double figures, with momentum back with the home side.
Reading continued to use their kicking game but they were almost punished when Odejinmi stepped his way through the first few tacklers in running back a kick. A last opportunity to reduce the deficit was almost successful when Blue Coat won an attacking line-out on the right and good handling threatened the MTS line, but the defence held firm as time ran out.
This was an exciting end to an excellent week-long festival of Rugby. Reading’s second half efforts had looked as if they would give them the lead, but they were unable to turn pressure into points and MTS were deserving of their victory. Reading now face Bishop Wordsworth’s in the next round of the Plate, while MTS take on London Oratory in the Daily Mail Trophy.
Full-time: Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood 21-10 Reading Blue Coat School
By Peter Crawshaw
Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood: Samuel Duce, Oliver Gilbert (Capt), Oscar Speller, Jack Townsend, Alex Shaikh, Thomas Szostak (Vice-Capt), Aaron Florestein, Harvey Lidstone, Dylan Byrne, Cameron Byrne, Rishi Pandya, Toby Wickham, Ben Fallowfield (Vice-Capt), Rishi Pattni, Dylan Flanagan
Replacements: Alan Lewis, Baran Menekese, Luke Kenny, Daniel Odejinmi
Reading Blue Coat School: Jack Williams, Josh Harris, Daniel Mussett, Marcus Smith, Ollie Pink, Ollie Bailey, Kieran Burgess, David Coleman, Thomas Price, Sam Jolly, Harry Herbert, Jamie Vickery, Andrew Perkin, Louis Brown, Will Griffiths
Replacements: Harry Williams, Oliver Newton