For the first time in U18 Academy League history the title was shared as Leicester Tigers and London Irish drew 22-22 on Sunday evening at Sixways Stadium.
While both sides had their frustrations at sharing the title, it means that Leicester Tigers now have their names on the trophy for the third year in a row, having won in 2019 and 2018, while London Irish return to the engravers for the first time since 2016.
It was, in fairness, a result that reflected the game, a topsy-turvy affair that really felt in the balance all along. London Irish opened the scoring with a typically physical rampage through from St Paul’s Catholic College loosehead Tarrek Haffar, with Wellington College’s Monty Bradbury converting
Leicester Tigers hit back ten minutes later though with some smart thinking from livewire scrum half Sam Edwards, who tapped and sniped over. Oakham’s Charlie Titcombe converted but London Irish were quickly ahead again when Wellington College’s Marcus Rhodes burst over just after the mid-point in the half for a 12-7 lead.
12-7 became 17-7 when Millfield’s Will Joseph, who like Haffar, Edwards, and Rhodes was recently name in the England U18 squad, stepped and wriggled his way over the line in a manner that drew all sorts of comparisons with his older brother Jonathan, the England centre.
Tigers came flying back straight after the break though, Brooksby Melton openside Jordan Tebbatt going over with Titcombe converting to close the gap to 17-14 before soon adding a penalty to level the game up. It was becoming like basketball though, with the momentum ever changing and thus it was Irish that scored next, Cranleigh winger Finley Brown, a member of last year’s England U17 setup, flying over at the end of a lovely period of play to take the lead again at 22-17.
As was the case all match, Tigers came roaring back. This time it came through England u17 winger Henry Joule of Oakham, whose finish leveled the game up at 22 each with just under a quarter of an hour to play.
The tension was scarcely bearable, never more so than when London Irish had an attacking lineout with the clock in the red. They set up the maul but the back to back champions repelled them and managed to prevent the ball from being made available, signaling the end of the game and a sharing of the title.
3rd Place Play-Off
Worcester Warriors sealed third place thanks to a 29-17 victory over Saracens in the opening game of the day.
Outside centre Harry Spencer was the star of the show for Worcester, the Warwick School star scoring a scintillating hat-trick as well as putting in a stunning defensive effort, while his schoolmate Fin Smith utterly bossed the shoe from fly half, scoring fourteen points including a try in a performance that saw respected Rugby Pass columnist Alex Shaw rank him as the number one U18 fly half in the country at the moment.
Worcester got off to a fast start with Spencer scoring after just six minutes, with Smith converting, but it then Saracens quickly levelled through left wing Francis Moore, Dulwich College Alex Cahill, who trained with England U17 last year, converting.
Fin Smith the scored his try some seven or eight minutes later, adding the conversion to boot, only to see Worcester bounce back again through tighthead Terrell Harry.
This topsy turvy game kept on swinging though, with Spencer adding his second try of the game following a Smith penalty to give Worcester a 22-12 lead. Again though, Saracens hit back, replacement Wilson Ijeh getting on the scoresheet, but it was Spencer again that stifled any thoughts of a comeback as he completed his hat-trick.
Smith then landed his third conversion for a 29-17 lead that his side would hold onto for the remainder of the game, sealing third place in the U18 Academy League on their own patch.
5th Place Play-Off
Newcastle Falcons sealed 5th place in the U18 Academy League in utterly stunning fashion as a late Louis Peacock try converted by the nerveless James Blackett saw them beat Bristol Bears 35-34 at Sixways Stadium.
Newcastle ha actually flown out of the blocks, going 21-0 up inside of half an our through Gosforth Academy second row Ben Robson and a brace from his schoolmate and England U18 flyer Matty Ward, with Blackett converting all three.
At the close of the half though SGS Filton College’s England U18 fullback, Chay Mullins, clawed one back from Bristol, with his England colleague TJ Wilstead of Colston’s converting to send his side in 21-7 behind at the break.
From there it felt like it was all Bristol in an early second half blitz, Bristol Grammar centre Harry Rowson scoring a quick brace, followed swiftly by another from Hartpury College wing Ollie Holiday, with Wilsted and replacement Jac Lloyd each slotting a conversion.
Newcastle were suddenly 26-21 behind but replacement hooker Ollie Fletcher leveled the scores with his try, Blackett converting to edge them back in the lead.
However back came Bristol, first Lloyd slotted a penalty before Rowson went over for his hat-trick and a 34-28 lead. It looked for all the world like it was a lead that would last the game as the minutes ticked by, however Newcastle, and in particular Peacock and Blackett, had other sides.
With the clock gone, Peacock went absolutely battering over the line to draw the Falcons to within a point. It left Blackett with an all or nothing kick, land it and fifth place was there, miss and it was a loss and sixth place. Cool as a cucumber the young fly half knocked it over to cue the celebrations.
Of course the main event though was that epic final, leaving the trophy shared between Leicester Tigers and London Irish. In many ways it was fitting, the two have unquestionably been the outstanding sides this year and more than matched one another in a glorious final.
It was definitely a case of both have won a trophy rather than neither having done so, such was the quality on show from two outstanding groups of young players.
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U18 Academy League Finals Day Results – Sixways Stadium, Worcester:
Leicester Tigers 22-22 London Irish – U18 Academy League Final
Worcester Warriors 29-17 Saracens – 3rd place play-off
Newcastle Falcons 35-34 Bristol Bears – 5th place play-off
15 Ollie Smith (Denstone College), 14 Josh Lugsden (Brooksby Melton College), 13 Cormac Calnan (Stamford), 12 Matt Potts (Leicester GS), 11 Jake Sterland (Brooksby Melton College), 10 Charlie Titcombe (Oakham), 9 Sam Edwards (Brooksby Melton College), 1 Seb Smith (Stamford), 2 Archie Vanes (Brooksby Melton College), 3 Jack Rowntree (Leicester GS), 4 Callum Oakden (Brooksby Melton College), 5 Bobby Singer (Stamford), 6 Kit Smith (Oakham), 7 Jordan Tebbatt (Brooksby Melton College), 8 Ben Muncaster (Rugby).
Replacements: 16 Joe Plunkett (Langley), 17 Lynx Noymey (Ellesmere College), 18 Dan Clements (Brooksby Melton College), 19 Phil Tandoh (Stamford), 20 Noah Leo (Brooksby Melton College), 21 Jed Gelderbloom (Oakham), 22 Billy Hull (Rugby), 23 Henry Joule (Oakham).
15 Ben Fitzgerald, 14 Henry Arundell, 13 Will Joseph, 12 Matt Barrett, 11 Finley Brown, 10 Monty Bradbury, 9 Rory Morgan, 1 Tarek Haffar, 2 Joseph Vajner (c), 3 Joe Keohane, 4 Josh Taylor, 5 Sam Harding, 6 Lucas Brooke, 7 George Davis, 8 Marcus Rhodes.
Replacements: 16 Freddie Fearnley, 17 Mikey Summerfield, 18 Ethan Pawadyira, 19 Edwin Zaimovic, 20 Oscar Jansen, 21 Dan Ormond, 22 Niall McGann, 23 Alexander Harmes.
15 James Mann (RGS Worcester), 14 Alex Evans (Alcester GS), 13 Harry Spencer (Warwick), 12 Seb Atkinson (Bromsgrove, captain), 11 Tobi Wilson (Stourport HS), 10 Fin Smith (Warwick), 9 Ollie Wynn (Bromsgrove), 1 Mitch Reeve (Solihull), 2 Joe Richardson (King’s Worcester), 3 Ben Rowley (Ellesmere College), 4 Adam Lane (Bromsgrove), 5 Charlie Hagen (Bishop of Hereford Bluecoat), 6 Ben Murphy (KES Five Ways), 7 Finlay Thomas (Stourport HS), 8 Jack Lewis (Stourport HS)
Replacements: 16 Jon Lilley (Stourport HS), 17 Josh Marsden (Malvern College), 18 Sam Hayler (Stourport HS), 19 Tom Miles (King Henry VIII, Coventry), 20 Fin Morgan (Bromsgrove), 21 Josh Harrison (Kinver HS).
15 Tobias Elliott, 14 Tom Mills, 13 Brandon Jackson, 12 Josh Robson-Groom, 11 Francis Moore, 10 Alex Cahill, 9 Sam Bryan, 1 Tristan Smith, 2 Samson Adejimi, 3 Zack Hill, 4 Kaden Pearce-Paul, 5 Alex Wardell, 6 Matt Cannon, 7 Toby Ponsford, 8 Toby Knight.
Replacements: 16 Ehimen Osbor, 17 Alfie Goater, 18 Terrell Harry, 19 Obinna Nkwocha, 20 Nathan Bispham, 21 Charles Favell, 22 Luc McNally-Drew, 23 Wilson Ijeh.
15 Tom Robinson, 14 Lewis Robertson, 13 Thomas Moore, 12 Ewan Greenlaw, 11 Matty Ward, 10 James Blackett, 9 Ben Douglas, 1 Mark Dormer, 2 Owen Chaplin, 3 Phil Brantingham (c), 4 Ben Robson, 5 Louis Peacock, 6 Rhys Tait, 7 Guy Pepper, 8 Owen Cassallo.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Fletcher, 17 Matty Siddle, 18 Drew Thompson, 19 Innes Hill, 20 Marcus Tiffen, 21 James Naylor, 22 Nathan Gough, 23 Ollie Spencer.
15 Chay Mullins (SGS Filton College), 14 Benjy Joseland (Clifton College), 13 Harry Rowson (Bristol GS), 12 Dylan Power (Colston’s), 11 Ollie Holliday (Hartpury College), 10 Tom Wilstead (Colston’s), 9 Calaghan Smith (Millfield), 1 Andrew Turner (SGS Filton College), 2 Jalen Curry (SGS Filton College), 3 Aaron Thompson (SGS Filton College), 4 George Taylor (Bristol GS), 5 Charlie Rice (SGS Filton College), 6 Fergus Dick (Bristol GS), 7 Jamie Collier (SGS Filton College, captain), 8 MacEnzie Duncan (SGS Filton College).
Replacements: 16 Tom Sims (SGS Filton College), 17 George Perry (SGS Filton College), 18 Soloman Taufa (SGS Filton College), 19 Mason Hughes (Hartpury College), 20 Angus Judkins (Taunton), 21 Jac Lloyd (Clifton College), 22 Ru Schofield (Wellington School).
2019 – Leicester Tigers
2018 – Leicester Tigers
2017 – Harlequins
2016 – London Irish
2015 – Saracens
2014 – Northampton Saints