Wellington College added yet another chapter to their remarkable rugby story with a stunning 41-19 victory over Rugby School in the Champions Trophy final at Allianz Park on Wednesday.
In doing so they become the first side in this competition’s six year history to win the tournament twice, backing up last year’s triumph against Epsom College, whom they beat in the semi finals of this year’s tournament.
The victory was built on a stunning first half performance that saw them cross the whitewash six times, including three in the opening ten minutes as the blitzed the founders of this wonderful game out of the match almost before it had truly begun.
It is a testament to the spirit of this Rugby School side though that in the face of a half time deficit of 36-5, which really could have turned nasty, they dug in deep in the second half, displaying the qualities that took them to this final, and actually won the half two scores to one to leave the final tally at 41-19.
The likes of number 8 and captain Ben Muncaster, his back row colleague Kofi Cripps, and outside centre Toby Baldwin really stepped up for their side in the second half, refusing to go out without at least displaying what their side can do.
In reality though the story of this match its of Wellington College’s triumph. This was not just another victory, not just a title. This was even bigger. The vast majority of this group won the U15 Schools Cup a few years ago, indeed a couple on the bench actually won it last year, at the time it seemed it was a group that was destined to do something special. They have delivered on that and more.
In addition to these back to back Champions Trophy titles they also claimed the prestigious St Joseph’s Festival title back in October, a title that made them the first side in schools rugby history to have at some stage won the Champions Trophy, St Joseph’s Festival, U18 Schools Cup, U15 Schools Cup, Daily Mail Trophy, and the Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s. Victory at Allianz Park made them just the second side ever to do the St Joseph’s Festival and Champions Trophy in one season, following Millfield in 2014.
Millfield could well have opened the door to Wellington College achieving even more after they beat Sedbergh 16-5 on Wednesday afternoon, too. That result opens the door for Wellington College to secure a remarkable treble on Saturday by winning the Daily Mail Trophy. There is maths at play, but in simple terms when they play Tonbridge on Saturday they will win the title if they better Cranleigh’s result against Canford.
To the Champions Trophy final though, where Wellington College came absolutely flying out of the blocks, with tries from Ted Johnson, Alex Teague, and Lucas Brooke helping them to a 17-0 lead after 9 minutes, with a Max Thomas conversion in addition.
Wellington were relentless, scoring quickly again through scrum half and vice-captain Finn Livingstone-Learmonth after a big break from number 8 Marcus Rhodes and a sumptuous offload.
Thomas converted to make it 24-0 after 17 minutes and his side were on fire. Openside Finlay Lock was having a superb game all round, with the likes of Brooke, Johnson, and captain Fin Baxter playing fantastically too.
It was a stunning start, few sides in the country could have dealt with a start like it such was the pace, accuracy, and power that Wellington had begun with. Credit to Rugby though, they kept at it and earned their reward through a neatly worked try for left wing Max Bruneau after some neat handling.
The Wellington College response was immediate though, such was the confidence and clinical nature with which they were playing. Fly half Monty Bradbury, who would later be named man of the match, was enjoying the platform those forwards were creating for him, and off the scrum he put in a magical pass to send full back Hector Elrington absolutely ghosting through a gap. Drawing his opposite man, Elrington then looked left to Max Watson, who raced in for Wellington College’s fifth try of the half and a 31-5 lead with Thomas’ conversion.
There was still more to come though and so it came as Wellington College just kept coming back for more and as the half drew to a close there was time for them to squeeze in one more try as some crisp passing, including a lovely long one from one of last year’s U15 starts, Murdoch Lock, resulted in a second try of the half for Johnson and a 36-5 half time lead for his side.
It was truly an epic half of rugby from a side that were absolutely in tune with one an other and seemingly determined to fulfill every inch of the promise that they had shown as those callow U15s.
It cannot have been an easy half time for Rugby School, the game was already done in reality, their dreams of Champions Trophy glory at the first attempt shattered. Yet whatever was said, it worked.
One would imagine it was about pride in the shirt and working for one another. Whether or not that was what was said, pride in the shirt was exactly what they showed in the second half, digging in deep to stem the tide, break up the game, and frustrate the champions in the opening twenty minutes or so of the second half.
Their efforts were rewarded 25 minutes into the half when a chargedown saw blindside Kofi Cripps go racing away to reduce the deficit to 36-12 with Jack Hughes’ conversion. Just reward for such a spirited response after half time.
However this Wellington College side were not about to allow even a hint of a comeback and once again after conceding they were right back on the attack as Finn Tawse, another of last year’s junior champions, scoring his side’s seventh try of the game to stretch out to 41-12. It was a mad few minutes, and Rugby themselves then bounced back again with a wonderful individual try from Toby Baldwin, converted by Hughes, but that was to be the end of the scoring at 41-19.
From there Wellington College closed out and for the final five minutes or so of the game there was time to reflect on what had truly been a glorious 70 minutes of rugby on the back of a brilliant season, and for this group a young men a five years of school rugby to look back on with nothing but pride.
Rugby School should look back with real pride, too. Even reaching this Champions Trophy final is a remarkable achievement and some of their play this year has been utterly astounding. In the face of a relentless Wellington College side here at Allianz Park they refused to buckle in the second half and responded with a real show of spirit and determination.
Ultimately the final word must go to Wellington College though. This remarkable group of young men have achieved so much together, their performances have been outstanding, their achievements historic in schoolboy terms. When we all look back in a few years time we will remember them as one of the greatest school rugby sides of all time. Perhaps just as much though we will remember them for their spirit – determination, humility, and passion have been their hallmarks.
Whether they add another title on Saturday or not, what this group has achieved will become the stuff of school rugby legend. Some will go on to professional careers, for others this might be the peak, but for all these moments will last forever as treasured memories.
Full Time: Wellignton College 41-19 Rugby School
15 Hector Elrington, 14 Max Watson, 13 Alex Teague, 12 Max Thomas, 11 Rory Diez-Harrison, 10 Monty Bradbury, 9 Finn Livingstone-Learmonth (vc), 1 Alessandro Heaney, 2 Lucas Brooke, 3 Fin Baxter (c), 4 Jack Kinnear, 5 Nick Teague, 6 Ted Johnson, 7 Finlay Lock, 8 Marcus Rhodes.
Replacements: 16 Mack Keast, 17 Ben Murrin, 18 Murdoch Lock, 19 Robbie Offord, 20 Finn Tawse, 21 Tari Mutu.
15 Joshua Beal, 14 Archie Cade, 13 Toby Baldwin, 12 Kenzie Morgan, 11 Max Bruneau, 10 Jack Hughes, 9 Fred Thame, 1 Patrick Grady, 2 Phil Sharkey, 3 Isaac Kayada, 4 Fergus Rathbone, 5 Xavier Christopher, 6 Kofi Cripps, 7 Toby Henderson, 8 Ben Muncaster (c).
Replacements: 16 Will Salvesen, 17 Josh Montfort Bebb, 18 Peter Colbourne.
Referee: Christophe Ridley