St Albans School U15s conceded two early scores against The Judd School U15s but came back strongly to run in three tries and secure victory in a closely fought Continental Tyres U15 Vase Quarter-Final tie.
One of the attractions of the quarter final stages of the National Schools Rugby competitions is that they often bring together two schools that play on very different circuits. That was largely true of these two schools, though both had registered wins in block fixtures against Campion School. In addition St Albans had in a previous round of the Vase defeated Dartford Grammar School, who had been comfortable winners against Judd in a block fixture back in September. So, on paper the Hertfordshire school were probably slight favourites.
Thankfully there was a break in the band of heavy rain crossing the South of England which enabled the game to begin in dry though breezy conditions. There was plenty of standing water in the nearby Kent fields after overnight rain, but the Vizards first team pitch was reasonably firm, with no question of the adjacent all-weather pitch being pressed into service.
The home side kicked off with the wind behind them and quickly opened the scoring after St Albans were penalised just inside their half. Fly-half Theo H backed himself to take on a long-range kick at goal and secured the three points from the tee, as the ball just cleared the crossbar. Following the restart, both sides struggled to put together multiple phases of possession and after an exchange of kicks a handling error gave Judd an attacking scrum on the 22. With possession won second-row Jake S carried strongly before the ball was switched to Leo B-H coming off his wing but the defence forced a penalty.
Both sides had difficulty throughout the game in negotiating the wind, especially when against, while trying to find touch. However, inside centre Tom D used his left boot to find a good touch on the right, giving Judd a series of attacking lineouts. From the last of these, hooker Max H carried strongly in midfield and the defence was forced to concede a penalty. Theo H was on target with a more straightforward kick to extend the Kent school’s lead.
The restart was well taken by Leo B-H but the ensuing clearance kick was run back by St Albans on the left before a well-weighted grubber kick took play up to the Judd 22. St Albans maintained pressure in the left corner, winning a scrum and moving the ball to the right where wing Ollie R combined with No 8 Ben Z. Good hands saw play switched back to the left corner and then again to the right. This time, space was created for Ollie R and he squeezed in to score in the corner. The touchline conversion attempt by fly-half Lochy B was well struck into the wind but drifted just wide.
After an exchange of kicks St Albans secured possession at a set scrum and gained field position thanks to a sweetly struck clearance kick by Lochy B. When that was followed by good handling on the right, a penalty against Judd gave St Albans an attacking lineout from which a driving maul took play deep into the 22, where the defence were forced to concede another penalty. A quick tap was taken and hooker Nikolaj M drove over to score in the corner. Although the touchline conversion was unsuccessful the interval was reached with the visitors ahead both on the scoreboard and in terms of momentum.
Halftime: The Judd School 6-10 St Albans School
St Albans soon gained good field position as the second half began, making good use of the wind advantage with a well judged restart. Although Judd managed to gain possession at a defensive scrum, they were penalised on their 22 and Lochy B was on target from the tee to extend the visitors’ lead.
An excellent clearance kick from the restart put St Albans back inside the Judd half and they once again threatened, Ben Z making some hard yards. Although Judd were able to regain possession and clear, St Albans’ kicking game was now working well and another well judged kick by Lochy B led to them securing an attacking scrum on the right. With possession won at the set piece the forwards drove close to the line but tenacious defence forced a handling error and Judd had the opportunity to clear from a penalty. However touch was again missed and Lochy B produced an excellent cross-kick to the left corner which the defence was forced to take into touch.
Possession was won at the lineout and after some ground was made by a driving maul the ball was released to the backs. Lochy B make an excellent line break to the 5m line before throwing a great offload to inside centre Rocco C. There was a glimpse of an overlap on the right but the defence got across to thwart the opportunity and despite more forward pressure Judd were given the put-in at a scrum. However they were unable to clear and St Albans had an attacking scrum from which possession was won and the ball moved through the hands to Rocco C who crashed over under the posts, Lochy B converting.
With the restart secured by the St Albans forwards another long clearance by their fly half put Judd back deep inside their half, and when they were penalised after the ensuing line-out St Albans had an attacking line-out in the right corner. An accurate cross-kick by Lochy B to the left corner was almost gathered by wing Alex Z but Judd were awarded a goal-line drop-out, enabling them to clear.
With full-time approaching, and Judd as the home side needing three scores to rescue the tie, rain started to fall. Judd worked hard to gain a consolation try but although they were able to gain field position and forced St Albans to concede several penalties, they were eventually penalised themselves and St Albans were able to get the ball off the field to bring on the final whistle.
This was an entertaining tie which eventually went with the form book, though the result was still in the balance until St Albans scored their third try. The effectiveness of their kicking game in difficult conditions was probably the deciding factor. St Albans will now face Beechen Cliff at Aylesbury RFC in the semi-finals, where they will be joined by The Leys and Durham.
Full time: The Judd School 6-20 St Albans School
By Peter Crawshaw
The Judd School U15:
Barnaby Y, Max H, Jay K., Louis. P., Jake S., Dominic H., Reuben B., Eddie L., Finn D., Theo H., Leo B-H., Tom D., Felix M., Henry M., Olly H.
Replacements: Luke M., Barnaby S., Jacob M., Gerrit V.
St Albans School U15:
Oliver G., Nikolaj M., Samuel P., Henry S., Michael K., Beltrán H., Jacob C., Ben Z., Aidan G-G., Lochy B., Alex Z., Rocco C., Hugh McC. Ollie R., Jake O.
Replacements: Hugh M., George C., Greig G.