Sedbergh are now just four days away from making it a remarkable three years since their last defeat after a superb 47-5 victory at Haileybury on Tuesday.
Following Warwick cancelling their game against Sedbergh on Saturday, and Haileybury’s game against Wellington College being cancelled due to the clash with the Champions Trophy semi finals, the two heads of rugby, Simon Mulholland and Michael Owen, put their heads together and arranged a last minute fixture.
Thank goodness they did for it was a brilliant spectacle, two unbeaten sides going head to head in cold but crisp conditions, ideal for rugby. What glorious rugby it was too, and it is a sign of just what a superb side this Sedbergh outfit is that few would have come away without feeling Haileybury had in fact played pretty well, yet such was the quality and clinical edge to Sedbergh’s play that the scoreline ended up looking one sided.
The men in brown travelled down to Hertfordshire looking to keep their hopes of a challenge for a third Daily Mail Trophy title in a row alive and well ahead of a tricky run of games that sees them take on Millfield and then their most consistent challengers for that title, Wellington College.
Early on it looked as though those hopes could be rocked as Haileybury came of fired up to the max and set about building some phases in the Sedbergh half. Sedbergh repelled the early assault though, showing some powerful defence and then, when Haileybury kicked to them, the exceptional England full back Oliver Melville came running back with interest.
Eight minutes in his burst down the right had ended in a try saving tackle from his opposite number Tariq Wild, but it merely served to set up base camp for Sedbergh who soon retrived the ball and then sent giant outside centre Tom Lanni back against the grain to crash over.
Fly half Louie Johnson converted, and along with Melville his wizardry in broken play was to prove one of the key aspects in this Sedbergh victory. Their defensive wall was almost unbreachable, and the hard running of their back row was incredibly tough to stop, that laid the platform for the star dust provided by these two, in particular, to cut theHaileybury defence open, and the support runners were consistently on hand to finish that off.
That was evident just three minutes later when Sedbergh went 14-0 up after a jinking Melville kick return saw Lanni on hand first, who then offloaded to hooker Lawrence Mason to go charging in, with Johnson adding the extras.
Ten minutes later the Cumbrians had their third through number 8 Rhys Tait, who ran a strong support line from out to in after another scintillating break from the mesmerising Johnson. The fly half converted and had time for another dose of magic before the half was out as he broke out from inside his own half with barely a finger laid on him. He was hauled down just short of the line, but it was a high tackle. Off the quick penalty from close range his openside and vice-captain, John Bailey, crashed over under the sticks to give his team a 28-0 half time lead with Johnson’s conversion.
It was a tough score for the home side to look at, and yet they had done little wrong. Half time was key for them though as they recognized the danger of the Sedbergh kick chase and resolved to keep the ball in hand, using their powerful ball carriers such as Riria Kivindyo and Ehimen Osebor, who were both part of a superb back row unit that also included openside Harry West, whose contributions at the breakdown would have made life near impossible for any but the very best of school teams.
Standing tallest of all though in the second half was skipper Callum McGurk, the captain refused to buckle in what was becoming a tough outing for his side, carrying and tackling with aplomb. Those efforts were rewarded early in the second half as his lineout work helped his side establish some field position early on. Sedbergh conceded a penalty close in as a result, and on a quick tap Osebor went absolutely rampaging over for a score that sent the touchlines wild.
Of course this Sedbergh side was always going to respond though, and in typical fashion it was a real one-two punch when they did as Bailey secured his second of the game following yet another scything break from Johnson before substitute James Naylor went flying over straight from the kick off. Johnson converted both and suddenly 28-5 had jumped to 42-5 in a flash.
Haileybury kept on battling though and the pressure they put on forced Sedbergh into conceding penalties, eventually resulting in a yellow card. However it was from there that Sedbergh perhaps proved exactly why they should be so well regarded as camped on their own line and down to 14 men they won a penalty. Quick as a flash they were off and running with Naylor and Ernest Freeman making good ground before Johnson’s pass round Lanni at full pace to go soaring in on the left hand side for a brilliant final try and the 47-5 victory.
It was sublime from Sedbergh from start to finish as they should just why they are such a well respected and brilliant side. Full credit too to Haileybury, though. They played well and came unstuck as so many have against this Sedbergh outfit, more importantly though, they arranged the fixture. With a great season ticking along nicely and an unbeaten record, they knew the challenges that this game would bring and yet they took it on anyway, meeting those challenges head on, it was a wonderful sight to behold.
Sedbergh, meanwhile, keep marching on, the unbeaten season continues, that three year stretch looms ever closer, and possible third title in a row is a game nearer, and that key pair of games against Millfield and Wellington College are now moving to the forefront. We, and they, are in for a fun few weeks of rugby.
Full Time: Haileybury 5-47 Sedbergh
15 Tariq Wild, 14 William Reed, 13 Phoenix Healy, 12 Jake Ratcliffe, 11 Oliver Firth, 10 Louis Aylwin (vc), 9 Harry Jinks, 1 Zac Burke, 2 Manuel Arroyo, 3 Cameron Giwa-McNeil, 4 Wihan Joubert, 5 Callum McGurk (c), 6 Riria Kivindyo, 7 Harry West, 8 Ehimen Osebor.
Replacements: 16 CQ Ling, 17 Max Hodges, 18 Ogechukwu Ujam, 19 Jack Fisher, 20 Christiaan Brandt, 21 Tim Hayes, 22 Jack Barnes.
15 Oliver Melville (vc), 14 Harry Sheil, 13 Tom Lanni, 12 Diego Warnken Araya, 11 Fraser Jones, 10 Louie Johnson, 9 Murray Redpath, 1 Josh Johnson, 2 Lawrence Mason, 3 JJ Kouadio (c), 4 Max Jackson, 5 Leo Johnson, 6 Iain Carmichael, 7 John Bailey (vc), 8 Rhys Tait.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Boyd, 17 Ernest Freeman, 18 James Naylor, 19 Cameron Melville.