Schools Rugby: Outstanding Cranleigh end Epsom College’s unbeaten run

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Coach Logic

Cranleigh School produced a dominant first half performance to beat Epsom College 26-5 in the eagerly awaited match-up between two unbeaten Surrey schools

 

This game is one that caught the eye when the fixture lists first appeared some months ago and that sense of anticipation has only intensified as these two schools have run up impressive records during the term. Epsom have progressed to the semi-finals of the Schools Champions Trophy, also recording convincing wins over Brighton College and Harrow. Cranleigh have once again chosen not to go in the National Cup competitions, but have looked impressive against the likes of Tonbridge and Hampton.

 

It is not unusual for schools to be missing key players through injury at this stage of the season. Cranleigh had been forced to make five changes from the side that started against Berkhamsted at Allianz Park just before half term, while still being able to field England U18 squad member Will Trenholm and Oscar Beard. Epsom were missing Captain Makeen Alikhan and had three changes in the front row, compared with the side that took the field in their Champions Trophy quarter final against Blundell’s.

 

The Cranleigh ground staff had done an excellent job in preparing the pitch but inevitably, with the prolonged, heavy rain in recent weeks, the playing surface was heavy, and morning sunshine in the South-East had given way to a dark afternoon under leaden skies as the home side kicked off, Epsom No 8 George Addington running the kick out but being stopped and held up on half way. The home side were clearly fired up from the start, winning the collisions and, although Epsom fly half Thomas Lynagh produced a good clearance kick, a long kick for position by Beard forced Epsom to concede a penalty, giving Cranleigh and attacking line-out on the left. Possession was won from the set piece and a maul set up before play was switched to midfield, where Beard took the ball at pace and cut through to score under the posts, scrum half Jago Bailey adding the conversion.

 

Cranleigh continued to press from the restart, wing Hugo North and centre Josh Dodson combining on the right, and after Bailey and Lynagh had exchanged kicks, it was again Beard who unlocked the defence, offloading to full back Finn Brown who broke through several tackles to score on the right. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

 

A strong carry by Trenholm from the restart followed by a box kick from Bailey kept Epsom on the back foot and when they were penalised there was an opportunity for Cranleigh to stretch their lead by going for the three points. However, they chose to kick to the corner and although Trenholm again won possession at the line-out they were penalise at the ensuing maul and Lynagh cleared to touch. The respite was short lived, as a Lynagh kick was charged down by second row Ollie Corbett, who skilfully controlled the rebound with his boot and outpaced the defence, but knocked it forward while attempting to gather to the ball as it crossed the line.

 

This incident caused tempers to boil over on both sides and some delay while a stern warning from the referee was issued to both captains. At the ensuing scrum the Cranleigh forward pack put in a massive shove and, although Epsom were able to scramble the ball away, the clearance was a short one and pressure was maintained. The next drive by the Cranleigh forwards took play close to the line and although possession was lost Epsom were unable to win their ball at the scrum and the forward pressure was unstoppable, Corbett forcing his way over in the left corner. Bailey’s touchline conversion attempt was sweetly struck to add the extras.

 

With Cranleigh exiting easily from the restart, Lynagh continued to use the high kick as Epsom’s main attacking weapon. Although centre Kitan Ojo chased effectively he was unable to take the ball cleanly. Epsom were able to win a line-out on the right through Addington, but were stopped by strong counter-rucking from Corbett. Both sides were content to kick for position as time expired before the interval, with Epsom losing Addington to injury.

 

Half-time: Cranleigh School 19-0 Epsom College

 

Cranleigh began the second half in similar vein. Wing Oli Crejeen making ground on the left before play was taken on by the forwards and it appeared to be hooker Ross Kiely who emerged triumphant as the scorer at the bottom of a pile of bodies in the left corner. Bailey was again perfect with the touchline conversion.

 

Though a look at the scoreboard indicated that the game was now gone, Epsom to their credit started to dig in and finally started to create some attacking opportunities. James Webster, coming on at full back, made ground on the right before putting in an effective grubber. Next, a run by Ojo on the left forced the defence to concede a penalty, kicked to the corner. Although possession was won and play switched to midfield, the defence held firm. When Epsom were penalised and Cranleigh won possession at the line-out, a big carry by Corbett got his side over the gain line before play was switched to the backs and again Beard broke through before play was brought back for crossing.

 

With light fading and both sides struggling to put together successive phases of play, the game entered a rather desultory phase. Finally with time running out Epsom did well to recycle possession of the right and make ground into the Cranleigh 22. When play was switched to the left, Cranleigh were penalised in the corner and, with the tap taken quickly, hooker Ollie Matthews crashed over to give his side a consolation score as time ran out.

 

Epsom face a big game when they host Wellington in the Champions Trophy semi-final, a rematch of last year’s final, and they will obviously want to bounce back for that. It appeared from early in this game from the body language of some Epsom players that their minds were possibly on that upcoming game. For Cranleigh this was arguably their Cup final and that came through in their physicality from the start. The quality of their play in the first half was of the highest order and few sides would have been able to live with them in this form. They will close out their season with games against Marlborough and Canford.

 

Full-time: Cranleigh School 26-5 Epsom College

 

By Peter Crawshaw

 

Teams:

Cranleigh School: David Ofori, Ross Kiely, Henrique De Silva, Ollie Corbett, Luke Kiely, Max Campbell Harris, Luke Andrews, Will Trenholm, Jago Bailey, James Patient, Oli Crejeen, Oscar Beard, Josh Dodson, Hugo North, Finn Brown

 

Epsom College: Charlie Witten, Ollie Matthews, Lewis Brown, Max Hales, Maximillian Smeby, Harry Benton, Charlie Richardson, George Addington (Captain), Daniel Davies, Thomas Lynagh, Shaun How Teo, Bryn Bradley, Kitan Ojo, Thomas Wearne, Jonny Haynes

Replacements: William Curwen, James Webster

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