Epsom College continued their impressive record in this competition, building a sufficient lead to withstand a comeback by Hurstpierpoint College to record a 22-13 victory, despite being held scoreless after the interval.
Despite being only 30 miles apart these two schools have not met regularly, though they are due to paly a block fixture next week. They do have a number of common opponents and this term’s record against those probably made the Surrey school the favourites on paper. However, the evidence of Hurst’s impressive performance against Hampton in the previous round combined with home-field advantage made for a finely balanced encounter. Conditions were ideal with minimal wind and overnight frost having dispersed and the playing surface in immaculate shape. A sizeable crowd was gathered on the touchlines.
After Epsom had kicked off, playing up the slight slope and enjoying possession and territorial advantage, Hurst suffered an early setback. Inside centre and man of the match, James Bourton, having put in a big hit on half-way, was forced to leave the field with a clearly painful arm injury. Epsom continued to press, good handling taking play into the right corner. Although the ball was lost forward, Hurst’s ball at the ensuing scrum was disrupted by an excellent effort by the Epsom forwards and, after successive thrusts by the forwards, captain Lennan Day plunged over to open the scoring. Fly-half Jack Jesty’s touchline conversion attempt was beautifully struck to add the extras.
Hurst’s woes continued when the restart failed to go 10 metres, and although their forward pack were this time able to take the ensuing scrum against the put-in, a handling error gave Epsom turnover ball. Epsom continued to enjoy territorial advantage and eventually won an attacking scrum on the 22. After use of the pick and go tactic, possession was moved through the hands to the left and an overlap created, No 8 George Addington crashing over in the corner. Jesty’s kick was again well struck but was pulled wide.
Although momentum shifted back to the home side with a series of penalties conceded by Epsom, the last of which gave centre Harry Nelson the chance to get Hurst on the board with a kick from the tee, the visitors struck twice in quick succession before half-time. First, a clearance kick from the restart was run back by Jesty who delivered a perfectly weighted grubber to the right corner, where wing Adam Koep outpaced the defence to touch down in the corner. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
Another score looked likely when Hurst were penalised inside their own half, but Jesty’s kick to the corner went dead. Epsom regained possession and, after several phases and a break by scrum-half Tom Williams, flanker Makeen Alikhan made ground on the right before delivering an excellent offload to Koep who crossed in the corner. Referee Richard Haughton checked with his touch judge and awarded the try. Although the difficult conversion attempt was again unsuccessful, the home side’s deficit on the scoreboard at the interval looking daunting.
Half-time: Hurstpierpoint College 3-22 Epsom College
With the two tries conceded before half-time Hurst needed to get the next score. Especially with the slope advantage, one would have forgiven Epsom for putting boot to the ball and protecting their lead, but they continued to look to run the ball out of defence. A penalty conceded on half-way gave Nelson the opportunity to put in an excellent kick to touch, setting up an attacking line-out in the right corner. The driving maul was duly established with flanker Tom Fisher carrying the ball at the back and inexorable progress saw the ball touched down. Nelson’s conversion attempt from wide out was unsuccessful.
A second chance to score from a driving maul was soon created but this time it was well defended and Epsom were able to clear. With Hurst tackling well, the penalty count continued to mount against Epsom, Mr Haughton eventually issuing a warning, and Hurst were able to set up further attacking line-outs. The first, on the right, was easily defended when the ball was overthrown but from the next, on the left, a maul was set up. After a series of drives by the forwards, possession was switched to the backs and Nelson found a good line to score close to the posts on the right, though he was unable to add the extras.
This score seemed to galvanise Epsom and a run by full-back Jonny Haynes took play into the Hurst half. A period of pressure on the Hurst line ensued, with Epsom able to set up their own driving maul on the right, but they were penalised. Epsom continued to retain possession inside the Hurst half and created several potential scoring opportunities from overlaps on both the right and left, but the final pass was either misdirected or dropped with the route to the try line open. With time running out Hurst were forced to run all possession, with a break down the left wing giving a glimmer of hope, but Epsom were able to contain them.
Hurst should have a chance to reverse the result in the upcoming block fixture at Epsom, though that will come only a few days before Epsom are due to face Wellington College in the final at Allianz Park.
Full-time Hurstpierpoint College 13-22 Epsom College
Images via: Sussex Sport Photography
Hurstpierpoint College: Thomas Johnson, Dylan Thomas (captain), Jack Douglas-Smith, James Pearson-Miles, Daniel Crook, Andrew Fadera, Tom Fisher, Frazer Falzon, Luke Heath, Freddie Longley, Joe Routledge, James Bourton, Harry Nelson, Stan Robinson, Matt Bridger
Replacements: Will Fursdon, Henry Duffield , Adam Crook, Nick Whitley-Jones, Sam Hall, Alex Slater, Chris Preen
Epsom College: Nilesh Raghavan, Riley Milsom, Lennan Day (Capt), Freddie Noble, Luke Nesbit (Vice-Capt), Andrew Palmer, Makeen Alikhan, George Addington, Tom Williams, Jack Jesty (Vice-Capt). Luke Laughton, Bertie Bamber, Theo Alexis, Adam Koep, Jonny Haynes
Replacements: William Page, Gordon Chung, Maximillian Smeby, Max Hales, James Webster, Oliver Bliss, Thomas Lynagh