Defending champions, Wellington College progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy with a 12-6 victory over 2017 champions, Dulwich College
When the quarter-final draw brought the names of the last two winners of this competition out of the hat together, a close game seemed assured. Both sides were missing a number of regular starters through injuries sustained at the St Joseph’s Festival. The home side’s key ball carriers at that event, props Fin Baxter and Will Hobson, were among at least half a dozen supporting from the touchline but unable to take the field of play. The visitors were similarly below full strength, with fly half Alex Cahill one of several key absentees. However, every credit must be given to those who stepped up for this game seized that opportunity and did their schools proud, in a closely contested game where the result was in doubt until the final whistle.
Morning sunshine in the South-East had given way to drizzle and falling temperatures, making for difficult handling conditions as Dulwich kicked off, Wellington having won the toss and elected to play up the slope in the first half.
Although Wellington were able to secure the kick-off and take play up to half way, No 8 Marcus Rhodes soon establishing himself as a key ball carrier, they were penalised at a scrum and the visitors made the most of that advantage, full back Isaac Shaw finding touch on the right. Opting for a short lineout, won by captain and No 8 Enzo Croy, Dulwich moved the ball through the hands and a good break by scrum half Isaac Gleave took play up to the 22. Although a turnover by second row Arvand Sangha briefly allowed Wellington to relieve the pressure, another penalty was conceded and an attacking line-out in the left corner gave Dulwich the chance to set up a maul. That was stopped by good defence but Rhodes was unable to pick up cleanly from the base of the resulting scrum and the pressure inside the Wellington 22 continued.
The referee was alert throughout to players being in front of the kicker and when the home side were penalised, Dulwich chose to go for the three points but Shaw’s kick drifted just wide of the left post. Another infringement from the resulting 22 drop-out gave Dulwich an attacking scrum and they used Shaw’s running skills to make ground on the right. The full-back offloaded to wing Jimmy Shepherd but excellent drift defence saw him pushed into touch short of the line.
Having survived a good 20 minutes pinned inside their own half, Wellington gradually worked their way up field and won a penalty on half way, giving them an attacking line-out on the Dulwich 22. That was won by Sangha but the resulting maul was well defended, and Dulwich had the put-in at the scrum. Although Wellington’s problems at the set piece continued as they were again penalised and Dulwich cleared to touch, they regained possession at the line-out and strong running by flanker Lucas Brooke took them back into the Dulwich half. The ball was moved quickly through the hands to centre Alex Teague who showed excellent pace and broke through in midfield, before play was switched to flanker Finlay Lock on the left. He offloaded to wing Finn Tawse, who made good use of his height to stretch and get downward pressure on the line. Fly half Michael O’Donoghue’s conversion attempt from wide out on the left was unsuccessful.
Having conceded a score against the run of play, the South London side were quick to respond. After stealing a line-out on Wellington’s throw, Dulwich put up a high kick to the 22, where Wellington were penalised. Shaw was successful this time from the tee to cut the deficit to two points. With the interval approaching Wellington came close to another score, moving the ball through the hands and winning a penalty on the Dulwich 22, but although that was kicked to the right corner the ensuing line-out was lost.
HT: Wellington College 5-3 Dulwich College
Both sides went to their benches, Wellington making two key changes for the second half, Robbie Offord taking over at fly half and Murdoch Lock coming on at flanker as well as taking over place kicking duties. With the slope advantage the home side were quick to translate that to good field position. When Dulwich were penalised on half way, Wellington won the ensuing line-out and their forwards took play into the 22, but good defence by Dulwich saw them force a penalty at the breakdown and the pressure was relieved, centre Jack Springate breaking out to half way, but the ball then went forward.
Rhodes was again a key ball carrier, making hard yards and combining with hooker Mack Keast on the left to force a penalty, kicked to touch on the Dulwich 22. Although the line-out was again lost, possession was immediately recovered by Wellington, but a penalty for crossing gave Shaw the chance to clear to half way with an excellent kick to touch. A knock-on gave Wellington the chance to regain possession and Rhodes, with another excellent carry, combined with Sangha on the left, but he was unable to get an offload away and Dulwich were again able to clear.
This time Dulwich enjoyed better fortune, winning a penalty when Wellington were caught offside and setting up an attacking line-out on the right, won at the tail by flanker Sam Williams. When Wellington were penalised again, Dulwich elected to go for the points and Shaw’s kick from the tee duly bisected the posts to give the visitors the lead. From the restart Rhodes showed impressive pace to break through on the right, and, although the cover defence did an excellent job to overcome that threat, a penalty saw Wellington come back with the put-in at a scrum deep inside the Dulwich 22. It was no surprise to see Rhodes pick up at the base and, although he was stopped, the defence were penalised and further pressure applied when the referee showed yellow.
When Wellington’s attempt to drive over their forwards from the penalty was stopped on the line, play was switched to the backs and a try seemed inevitable with a big overlap on the right, but the final pass was dropped. Although Dulwich were able to win the resulting scrum and get their clearance kick away, that was run back by speedy full back Hector Elrington who found space on the left. His attempted offload was judged by the referee to have been intentionally knocked on by the defence, the resulting penalty giving Wellington the chance to set up a line-out in the left corner, but the throw in was judged not straight, giving Dulwich a scrum. It looked as if a scoring opportunity had again been lost, but a free kick was awarded to Wellington, quickly taken as a tap, and this time Rhodes drove over to score. Murdoch Lock’s conversion attempt from wide out was successful.
The importance of securing the restart after scoring was illustrated when Wellington were penalised, giving Dulwich the chance to set up an attacking line-out in the left corner. Although possession was won from that and a score threatened, great defence saw Wellington win a turnover and an excellent clearance kick by Murdoch Lock briefly relieved the pressure, but a Wellington knock-on gave Dulwich an attacking scrum. From the set piece, Shaw was put into space on the right and he stepped his way through to the 22, winning support from his forwards. Gleave combined with flanker Joe Colahan to carry play on and Wellington were caught offside. With time running out and a converted try needed, a tap was taken but tenacious defence forced a penalty to Wellington. Lock’s kick had good distance but failed to find touch and Dulwich pressed again. A well weighted kick almost picked out Shepherd in space on the right, but he was unable to gather the ball cleanly.
The resulting Wellington scrum looked to give the home side the chance to run out the clock, with Rhodes picking up at the base, but he was penalised, and Dulwich had one last opportunity, Shaw kicking to touch in the right corner. With the line-out won, the ball was moved to midfield and the chance of a dramatic finish was still there, but once again the Wellington defence came up with a big play, winning a turnover and the ball was kicked off the field to end the game.
Dulwich might rue their inability to turn pressure into points in the first half, but they almost made up for that by again dominating play at the end, and credit should go to the Wellington defence during both those periods. The home side probably did enough to justify the result.
Full-time: Wellington College 12-6 Dulwich College
By Peter Crawshaw
Wellington College: Alessandro Heaney, Mack Keast, Ben Murrin, Arvind Sangha, Jack Kinnear, Lucas Brooke, Finlay Lock, Marcus Rhodes, Finn Livingstone-Learmonth, Michael O’Donoghue, Finn Tawse. Harry Cain (capt), Alex Teague, Alfie Mason, Hector Elrington
Replacements: Guy Zilberman, Nicholas Teague, Will Ayton, Connor O’Byrne, Robbie Offord, Max Watson, Murdoch Lock
Dulwich College: Archie Woodock, Jonny Brearley, George Peprah, Xavier Rainbow. Sam Fleming, Sam Williams, Joe Colahan, Enzo Croy (capt), Isaac Gleave, James O’Callaghan, Ollie Killeen, George Rawkins, Jack Springate, Jimmy Shepherd, Isaac Shaw
Replacements: Oli Rynsard, Femi Olajiga, Louis Rudnicki, Jardel Cumberbatch, Teddy Watling, Magnus Broadley