Marlborough College U15s coped well with appalling conditions, dominating territory in the first half and getting just enough points on the board, to hold off a spirited fightback by John Fisher School and clinch a 15-10 victory in this U15 Schools Plate semi-final
These two schools play on strong circuits in their respective regions. Although the Purley based school’s record this season shows nine defeats, that is put into perspective when one realises that those include games against Trinity, Whitgift, Hampton, Dulwich (twice, including Round 1 of the U15 Cup), Warwick and Brighton. Marlborough last term lost only to Wellington (in Round 1 of the U15 Cup), Stowe and Eton.
The heavy rain and strong winds that had swept across the South-East from early in the day continued unabated throughout the game and no amount of work by ground staff could have prevented the pitch from being a mudbath. Had this not been a cup game it is doubtful that it would have gone ahead. Despite that, a good-sized crowd of supporters, including Fisher alumnus and Harlequins star Alex Dombrandt braved the exposed conditions on top of the ridge overlooking Croydon.
With the strong wind blowing straight down the pitch, this was likely to be a game of two halves, and Marlborough enjoyed the benefit of that as they kicked off, winning a penalty and setting up an attacking lineout deep into the Fisher 22 on the left. With possession won, a maul was set up but turnover ball gave Fisher the chance to clear. The respite was brief, as Marlborough secured possession from a scrum and good work by their forwards took play to the 22 where Fisher were penalised. Despite the slippery surface and strong wind, Marlborough opted to take the points and fly-half Charlie Brooks produced an excellent kick to open the scoring.
The visitors continued to make good use of Brooks’ kicking game to maintain the territorial advantage, a well-directed kick into the 22 putting pressure on the Fisher defence, for whom full-back Josh Anoop showed courage and a cool head throughout. The pressure was briefly lifted when Fisher won successive scrums and long-striding second-row Dimietri Ihedioha carried strongly, but the slippery ball slipped from his grasp and another well-weighted kick took play back deep into the Fisher 22. More good work by Anoop saw a clearance to touch but from the ensuing line-out the Marlborough backs defied the conditions to move the ball through the hands to create space on the right.
Although the ball went loose, it was hacked through to the right corner where at first it seemed that the defence had won the race to the loose ball to force a 22 drop-out, but when referee Steve Wagstaff checked with the touch judge his attention was drawn to an off-the-ball infringement and he awarded a penalty to Marlborough close to the line. This was taken quickly by Brooks who dived over for a try in the corner. The conversion attempt from wide out was a difficult one especially given the conditions, but Brooks’ kick was right on target and just had the legs to clear the crossbar.
After Anoop had again dealt effectively with another kick into the 22, inside centre Boveley Nunu found a good line to get across the gain line in midfield but Marlborough were able to recover and the interval was reached without further addition to the score, players, officials and spectators repairing to the clubhouse for a much-needed break from the cold and horizontal rain. While the Wiltshire based side had dominated territory in the first half, it remained to be seen if their lead would be sufficient when they turned to face the elements.
Half-time: John Fisher School 0-10 Marlborough College
Despite the change of ends, the momentum initially stayed with the visitors, who kept the ball in hand and carried through their forwards deep into the Fisher half, and a clearance kick was well fielded in midfield by replacement full-back Will Cooke-Priest, who ran back, eluding would-be tacklers to find space and make ground on the left into the 22, Although he was stopped by the cover defence, possession was retained and play taken on by the forwards to the line, flanker Rory Staples crashing over on the left. For once, Brooks’ kick was unsuccessful.
With Fisher now three scores behind, they desperately needed a quick response and they delivered that impressively. After recovering possession from the restart, effective use of the pick-and-go tactic took play up to the Marlborough 22 on the right and the ball was then moved through the hands to the left where Nunu broke through tackles before diving over in the corner. Outside centre Max Webber’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
Sensing that a second score would put them right back in the game, Fisher looked to get the ball to their strong running backs, Nunu and wing Kevin Yeboah, who carried strongly to the 22. Although handling errors gave Marlborough the put-in at successive scrums, the wind was strengthening again and attempted clearance kicks made little ground. Ihedioha and fellow second row Shane Wani made some hard yards and, when Marlborough tried to carry out of defence through their forwards, they conceded a scrum inside their 22. The first phase set-piece ball was moved to the blindside where Yeboah took the ball at pace and crashed over in the corner. Again, the difficult conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The Fisher forward pack were now rampant with prop Sam Kahia making hard yards and although the defence tackled resolutely they were forced to concede a penalty. After some debate, Fisher opted to run it rather than risk a kick to the corner, Nunu again threatening to break through but the final pass went astray on the 22 giving Marlborough a scrum. Although possession was won, the ensuing maul was stopped giving Fisher an attacking scrum on what looked likely to be the final play. Again the Purley side drove towards the line, but the Marlborough defence was tenacious and the ball went loose before being cleared into touch, Mr Wagstaff blowing for full time.
This was a classic cup encounter between two schools that would normally never play each other. Both sides deserve tremendous credit for coping with truly horrible conditions. Marlborough did just enough in the first half and, critically, during the first ten minutes of the second half to resist John Fisher’s resurgence in the final quarter. They will now face Rugby School in the Plate and Bowl finals day at Allianz Park on 17th March. This John Fisher year group clearly has an excellent team spirit and are a well-balanced side that should maintain the perennially competitive run of Fisher sides as they move through the school.
Full-time: John Fisher School 10-15 Marlborough College
By Peter Crawshaw
John Fisher School:
Sam Kabia, Diran Oresanya, Matt Cassar, Shane Wani, Dimietri Ihedioha, Hubert Karczewski, Harvey Akeme, Will Robinson, Max Allen, Will Sorrell, Kevin Yeboah, Bovely Nunu, Max Webber, Josh Kalu, Josh Anoop
Replacements: Josh Ajibulu, Eduardo Reader, Fabian Ezeanaka, Caolan Timlin
Edward Wrench, Seb Hebblethwaite , Joshua Umeh, Freddie Palmer, John Tidmarsh, Rory Staples, Jamie Cook, Oliver Bowman (Captain) , Otto Bartlett, Charlie Brook, Oliver Howell, Jack Ralph, Ed Betts, Bede Coleman, Henry Green
Replacements: Sam Brooks, Will Cooke-Priest