King’s College School, Wimbledon were clinical in their finishing and defended brilliantly to withstand a long period of pressure from Epsom after half time to take the U15 London & South-East A Region final.
These two schools’ U15 sides have enjoyed excellent seasons, both undefeated coming into this game while playing on similar and very strong circuits. KCS had reached this round with a win over Harrow, while Epsom (National U14 Champions with this squad last season) had seen off past champions and perennial semi-finalists Whitgift. With a number of members of the Harlequins Developing Player Programme taking the pitch, on paper this would have been a worthy final.
Despite the deep overnight frost, the pitch had passed a late morning inspection, there was sunshine at kick-off time, with touchlines packed with supporters of both sides. The home side was quick to get on the scoreboard after forcing a penalty which was kicked to the left corner. With the set piece possession won, the ball was offloaded to left-wing Louis W and although he was stopped short of the line, possession was retained by the forwards and prop Jethro E forced his way over the line and got downward pressure in the corner. The touchline conversion attempt was missed and there was an injury stoppage when a player seeking to charge down the kick appeared to collide accidentally with the kicker.
Epsom looked for an immediate response, winning a turnover at the restart and gaining good field position on the left. Possession was retained at a line-out on the 22 and the ball was moved through the hands, creating an overlap on the right, but an excellent tackle prevented a likely score. Although possession was retained, a long pass to the left resulted in a handling error and KCS had the chance to clear from a set scrum but were penalised at the breakdown, giving Epsom an attacking lineout in the left corner. The ensuing driving maul proved unstoppable and hooker Alex Michael went over for the try. Scrum-half Arthur Garfield’s touchline conversion attempt was well struck but unsuccessful.
The danger of not securing the restart was highlighted as a handling error by Epsom gave KCS the opportunity to use the pick-and-go tactic which was to be their most effective attacking weapon throughout the game. The forward pack took play deep into the 22 before captain Max R produced a classic scrum-half sniping run and dived over to score by the posts, adding the extras himself. Once again, the perils of the restart were apparent when KCS were penalised and, although touch was missed with the kick from hand Epsom had the throw-in at a lineout from the KCS clearance and good handling on the right led to another penalty being conceded by KCS. This time touch was found in the right corner and possession won, but the excellent defence led to a handling error and KCS were able to regain possession at the scrum, No 8 Ben S picking up from the base to give space for a clearing box kick.
The moment of danger for the home side seemed to have been averted as Epsom were penalised in midfield but following the resulting lineout, Epsom regained possession and full-back Benjy Lee found an excellent line and showed tremendous pace to cut through on the right, before offloading to centre Luc Springate who crashed over close to the posts, Garfield adding the conversion. With the scores level and halftime approaching, both sides struggled to put together multiple phases. KCS threatened on the left, but possession was lost and although Epsom’s clearance kick was charged down KCS were penalised and the interval was reached without further addition to the scores.
Half-time: KCS Wimbledon U15 12-12 Epsom College U15
The visitors looked to make use of their strong running backs early in the second half, but the KCS defence contained the threat and when Epsom were penalised KCS made good use of an attacking lineout on the left, again deploying their very effective pick-and-go tactic to take play close to the line before Max R again showed his sniping skill to dive through a pile of bodies to score. Unfortunately, he then had to leave the field for treatment of an injury and, with the kicking duties taken over by Louis W, the tricky conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
Epsom, finding themselves again playing catch-up. Then began a period of territorial dominance, forcing a scrum in midfield on the KCS 22. With possession won, the ball was moved through the hands, first to the left and then to the right: a try in the corner looked possible but possession was lost just short of the line. KCS were able to clear from the resulting scrum and excellent chasing of the kick prevented an immediate Epsom riposte but play soon came back into the KCS 22. This time it was Epsom’s turn to employ the pick-and-go tactic and play was taken up to the line, but the defence prevented a score. However, Referee Phil Bowers was playing penalty advantage and Epsom kicked to the right corner.
With possession secured from the lineout, Epsom set up a driving maul but were penalised. KCS’ kick did not find touch so Epsom were immediately back inside the 22, moving the ball through the hands on the left and Springate carrying strongly, but they were again kept out by some excellent defence and forced to kick. The pressure was maintained when KCS were penalised, giving Epsom another lineout on the right. Play was switched to the left and another penalty conceded by the defence gave Epsom an attacking lineout in the left corner, from which they again looked to use their backs and left-wing Freddie Carty was stopped a metre short of the line. Another penalty gave Epsom the chance to drive towards the line from short range but the defence continued to hold firm and they were driven back and penalised.
With KCS clearing to touch and setting up a maul from the lineout, the lengthy period of pressure ended without addition to the score. This was probably the decisive moment of the game, and the psychological lift that this must have given to the home side soon brought a more tangible reward. Although Epsom forced a turnover from KCS’ move in midfield, they immediately lost possession when second-row Leo D ripped the ball and set off on a tremendous run into the 22 and although he was stopped, the ball was recycled and forward pressure took play into the left corner. Although Epsom briefly recovered possession they were unable to clear and when they conceded a penalty it was Leo D who took a quick tap and drove over to score his side’s fourth try. Although the touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful, Epsom were left requiring two tries with time running out.
There glimmer of hope for the visitors when KCS were penalised at the restart and forward pressure renewed from the ensuing lineout, but following an excellent tackle they were driven back. Finally, Epsom found the space out wide that they had been seeking and No 8 Kit Fleming showed great pace on the right touchline before diving over in the corner. However, this proved to be a consolation try, as Mr Bowers blew up for full-time following the unsuccessful conversion attempt.
This was always going to be a close contest between two outstanding U15 sides and the game could have gone either way until KCS scored their fourth try. Indeed for much of the second half, when KCS were without their influential captain and scrum half and Epsom were camped inside their 22, it seemed that the visitors might prevail. In the final analysis, the excellent KCS defence, combined with the very effective support play by their forwards when in possession, proved decisive. KCS can now look forward to a home quarter-final draw against Canford in the New Year.
Full-time: KCS Wimbledon U15 22-17 Epsom College U15
By Peter Crawshaw
King’s College School, Wimbledon U15: Teo M, Harry F, Jethro E, Leo D, Andrew A, Adam W, Charlie V, Benjamin S, Max R (Capt), Charlie T, Louis W, James M, Antonio C, Matteo K, Rafi B
Replacements: Charlie K, George L, Deyan P
Epsom College U15: Bryce Whitley, Alexander Michael, Isaac Robinson, William Leutert, Gabriel O’Brien, Zac Jones, Alex Frewer (Capt), Kit Fleming, Arthur Garfield, Flynn Roberts, Freddie Carty, Alfie Haxton, Luc Springate Capt), Felix Gerlach, Benjy Lee
Replacements: Charlie Lappin, Hugo Handley, Jackson Garner, Luca Conway-Sparks, William Speight
1 Comment Schools Cup: KCS Wimbledon U15s get past Epsom College | KCS to meet Canford in Quarter Finals