Harrow School, after falling behind to two early scores, fought back to clinch a19-15 victory over Trinity School in an enthralling U15 Schools Cup Quarter Final.
This was a contest that would have made for a worthy final in this competition, between two hitherto unbeaten sides, both playing on two of the toughest circuits in the country. The core of this Harrow side is formed from the squad that won the Rosslyn Park U14 7s in 2019, while the Trinity team includes a number of Harlequins and Saracens academy members. Trinity had been rampant against Brighton College in the previous round, while Harrow had had to work hard to get past Wimbledon College.
The heavy rain that had afflicted much of the South-East overnight seemed thankfully to have avoided the Harrow area and the 1st XV pitch was in excellent condition, providing a fitting setting for these two outstanding sides.
The South London side kicked off and were quickest out of the blocks, regaining possession inside the Harrow half and putting outside centre Oliver Bailey into space of the left. Although he was stopped just short of the line, Harrow were unable to clear and Trinity wing Aaron Fakorede found space on the right before being stopped just short of the line. When Harrow were penalised at the ensuing scrum, Trinity kicked to the corner and set up a driving maul which made inexorable progress to cross the line, flanker Alex Tagg getting the score. The difficult conversion attempt by full back Joshua Bellamy narrowly missed.
Trinity continued to dominate from the restart, Bellamy clearing to touch, and although Harrow secured possession from the lineout, their maul was well defended and they were forced to concede a scrum. Trinity moved the ball quickly through the hands on the right from the set piece, and loose head prop Kane Fleary carried strongly into the 22. Although he was stopped short of the line, quick ball saw the ball switched to the left and wing Zac McCulloch dived in at the corner, Bellamy adding the extras with a beautifully struck kick from the touchline.
The home side were struggling to break out of their half, conceding a penalty which again gave Trinity good field position. This time the maul was stopped but Harrow again lost possession from the set scrum and the Trinity backs made good use of turnover ball. Desperate defence prevented a score, but with Trinity winning a 5m scrum and repeated thrusts towards the line from close range, a third – and potentially game clinching – try looked probable. However, the Harrow players put their bodies on the line and forced a penalty, allowing them to clear to touch.
This time line-out ball was secured and the ball moved through the hands on the left, where Trinity were penalised. Advantage was played and Harrow at last had the chance to show the pace of their backs, wing Finlay Smith running impressively past half way. When Trinity were penalised again, it was the turn of the Harrow forward pack to use the pick-and-go tactic to take play deep into the left corner. Although progress was halted by a handling error, there was now a perceptible shift in momentum and Trinity struggled to clear beyond half way, conceding further penalties, one of which enabled Harrow to set up an attacking line-out in the left corner. The driving maul was judged by the Referee to have been taken down illegally, and inside centre Cameron Ellis showed great presence of mind to take a quick tap and crash over in the corner, though he was unable to add the conversion.
Having got back into a game that had earlier seemed to be slipping from their grasp, Harrow looked to their strike runners, Ellis and No 8 Dani Neal to continue the recovery. Although Harrow were forced to concede a penalty following an impressive carry by Neal, Trinity’s kick failed to find touch and half time was reached with Harrow continuing to enjoy the bulk of possession and territory.
Half-time: Harrow School 5-12 Trinity School
Although the second half opened with Bellamy demonstrating his running skills by running out the restart, Harrow won a set scrum on half way, from which Ellis stepped past several defenders before linking with Neal, who offloaded to prop Matthew Gaffney who took play into the 22. With Harrow being awarded a 5m scrum on the left, they had a great attacking opportunity and Neal picked up from the base of the scrum and broke through tackles to score under the posts and repeat his game clinching try against Wimbledon College. Ellis added the simple conversion to level the scores.
The Croydon side were quick to respond, winning a line-out on the left. Harrow successfully defended the ensuing maul, but a knock-on gave Trinity the put-in at a scrum from which Harrow were penalised on their 22. It must have been tempting to kick to the corner, but in a close game, it was undoubtedly the right decision to take the points even though the kick was not an easy one, and Bellamy’s kick from the tee was beautifully struck, regaining the lead.
Trinity scrum half Drew Gormley’s kicking game was outstanding throughout, and he produced an excellent box kick from the restart to give his side good field position. Trinity looked to have a good attacking opportunity when they were awarded a line-out on the right, but possession was not won cleanly and the ball came to Harrow hooker KepuTuipulotu – an U14 playing up – who broke down the touchline into the 22. Play was taken on by the forwards but excellent defence forced a penalty and it was Trinity’s turn to threaten to score, as they created space on the right for Aaron Fakorede, but excellent cover tackling stopped the winger.
With time running out, Harrow worked to create field position through their powerful forward pack, Neal again carrying strongly. Although Trinity forced a penalty and won the ensuing line-out, possession was kicked away and the momentum remained with Harrow, who went through multiple phases, urged on by a vociferous crowd. Further forward pressure on the left was met by resolute Trinity defence, but eventually Trinity were forced to concede a penalty and Ellis produced an excellent kick to give Harrow an attacking line-out on the right. However, the throw was not straight and, with Trinity opting for a scrum, Harrow were penalised and Trinity cleared to touch.
This time it was the Trinity throw to the line-out that was judged not to be straight and with possession recovered the Harrow forwards drove up to the 22, where they were stopped by a high tackle. The kick in front of the posts was a simple one, but with time running out, a draw would see Trinity progress as the away side. So, Ellis again took a tap and broke through tackles to within a couple of metres of the line. Huge forward pressure was met by tenacious defence with the ball taken to the line but the Referee unable to confirm the grounding for a score, but finally Harrow were awarded a 5m scrum on the left.
Possession was secured and the ball came back to Ellis. His initial movement was a lateral one, but the defence was drawn in and when play was switched to the right a clear overlap emerged and a score seemed certain, as a Trinity defender made a last ditch attempt to intercept. The ball flew clear, having appeared to strike the upper arm of the Trinity player and the Referee, evidently deciding a deliberate knock-on had been made with an otherwise certain try probable was seen to run under posts to signal a penalty try, followed immediately by whistling for the end of the game, to the joy of the home supporters.
There could not have been a more dramatic end to what was an enthralling contest: a cruel end to the game to a Trinity side who played brilliantly for the first quarter and defended resolutely to protect a slender lead in the closing stages. Harrow now face a long trip to play a semi-final against Ivybridge who put out the holders. Wellington College.
Full-time: Harrow School 19-15 Trinity School
By Peter Crawshaw
Harrow School: Matthew Gaffney, Kepu Tuipulotu, TiarnanO’Brien, Toby Ferneyhough, Barimah Adomakoh, Arnaud du Roy de Bliquy, Conner O’Flaherty, Dani Neal, Gabriel Black, Kit Keey, Tito Eduja, Cameron Ellis, Ollie Miall, Finlay Smith, WalidNsouli
Replacements: Baba Obatoyinbo, Sam Harrison, Charlie Griffin
Trinity School, Croydon: Kane Fleary, Edward Brown, George Lawrence-Green, Nathan Fakorede, Henry Molyneux, Alex Tagg, William Peart-Smith, Roma Matebalavu, Drew Gormley, Finlay Kennedy, Zac McCulloch, Sam Medcraft, Oliver Bailey (capt), Aaron Fakorede, Joshua Bellamy
Replacements: Stanley Chilvers, Oliver Butler, Max Farrell