Dulwich College became the first side ever to have won both the Champions Trophy and the U18 Schools Cup after they beat Blundell’s 34-29 in a stunning Champions Trophy final at Allianz Park.
It was a final truly worthy of the name, with two fantastic sides turning out determined to play a wide and attacking game of rugby, the 1000 or so spectators packed into Saracens’ home ground were treated to a truly outstanding game of rugby.
The stat leading into this was that Dulwich had been free-scoring in this competition, while Blundell’s had yet to concede more than 7. Perhaps it was that free-scoring spirit that made the difference, though in truth, both sides played beautiful attacking rugby and looked equally dangerous with the ball in hand.
Momentum, it seemed, was the key here. Never have you seen it swing back and forth quite like this though. More than once, Dulwich built a sizeable lead. It seemed like they would pull away, only for Blundell’s to get back in touch, at which point they suddenly looked the more likely side to win it. It must have been torture for those fans in the stands, and the many thousands more watching at home.
The first such lead came in the opening twenty minutes, as Dulwich opened up a 14-3 lead, constructed by their superb fly half Sunni Jardine, whose passing game was quite simply sensational.
It came into play just four minutes in when he flung a 25 yard pass for evasive full back Max Bliss to run onto, who in turn released Louis Ferrari to score in the corner. Has there ever been a more fitting name for a winger?
Jardine converted, and fifteen minutes later he was at it again, this time breaking the line from first phase possession after a Dulwich scrum on half way. Once through he released his other winger, Femi Sofolarin to race home, with the fly half once again converting.
It was an intense opening quarter, Blundell’s had registered a score though, inside centre Barry Karea slotting a penalty. It was Karea’s first involvement of the game, but it was certainly not his last, he was to end up being named as former England international Tom May’s man of the match.
On 28 minutes, he gave us the first indication why, bursting through the Dulwich defence to release his skipper Sam Maunder, brother of England scrum half Jack, to race away for his side’s opening score.
Barely a minute later the two combined again, this time Karea racing down the left wing before stabbing a kick through for Maunder. All of a sudden 14-3 had become 17-3 in Blundell’s favour, a stunning turnaround.
This topsy turvy game was not about to go through the motions for the next five minutes to half time though, oh no.
Perhaps one of the most famous aspects of that run of three Schools Cup titles in a row that Dulwich enjoyed was their driving maul. It is safe to say that no matter how much exciting width they play with, that skill has well and truly been retained, and they showed it here on the stroke of half time as Louis Wright charged over from the tail, with Jardine again converting for a 21-17 half time lead.
It was Dulwich that came out the faster in the second half too, scoring within five minutes, just as they had in the first half. Like in that opening half, it was another scintillating score pass from Jardine that created it too, as he flung it wide to the same scorer, Ferrari, before converting once more for a 28-17 lead.
Just a couple of minutes later that lead was out to fourteen points thanks to the most opportunistic of drop goals from captain Oscar Gleave, who picked up a bouncing ball, looked up, a nonchalantly stroked a wobbly one over for 31-17.
Once more though, Blundell’s refused to be cut adrift, first scoring through a powerful blindside run from openside Luke Simpson, a fine, player, to narrow the gap to 31-24.
Seven minutes later came another outstanding piece of work from Karea. Bursting through on the left he swatted away three Dulwich defenders before pulling off a sensational finish in the corner, before adding an equally good conversion from the touchline.
Again they had cut the gap right down, and we had a two point game. The nervous tension was palpable, but so too the excitement. This was Cup rugby, at any level, at its absolute finest. With fourteen minutes to go, it was set up for a grandstand finish.
Jardine gave his side some comfort with 9 on the clock with a penalty for 34-29, but it was comfort only in that it put them more than three points clear.
Both sides threw everything at it for the remaining few minutes, but neither could break through as Dulwich held out for a superb and historic victory.
It truly was a thrilling final, and full credit to a Blundell’s side that simply never gave up and refused to go away. Dulwich were the deserved winners though, the sheer ambition and creativity of their play was a joy to watch.
This extraordinary group now go down in history, the fourth winners of the Champions Trophy, and the first to win it having previously won the U18 Schools Cup. You suspect that the Old Alleynians clubhouse will be rocking this evening.
Overall, it was the perfect end to this tournament that seems to continually throw up magnificent games of rugby, and how fitting that right at the end we perhaps had the most entertaining of all.
Champions Trophy Final: Blundell’s 29-34 Dulwich College
15 Gregory Kitson, 14 Jake LeGassick, 13 Samuel Kennaugh, 12 Barry Karea, 11 Oscar Kolowski, 10 Thomas Crowe, 9 Sam Maunder (c), 1 Joshua Oliphant-Thompson, 2 Oliver Clough, 3 Henry Dare, 4 Mack Butterfield, 5 Oliver Kilbride, 6 Jack Klinkenberg, 7 Luke Simpson, 8 George Bush.
Replacements: 16 Harvey Wilder, 17 George Stubbs, 18 Samuel Dodd, 19 Max Baxter, 20 Will Kennaugh, 21 William Heroys.
15 Max Bliss, 14 Femi Sofolarin, 13 Oscar Gleave (c), 12 Matthew O’Flaherty, 11 Louis Ferrari, 10 Sunni Jardine, 9 Mikel Davies, 1 Tyreece Asamoah, 2 Louis Wright, 3 Thomas Brearley, 4 Enzo Croy, 5 Noah Cooper, 6 Jack Ramsay, 7 Oludara Odunlamni, 8 Haydn Oakley.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Depel, 17 George Duggan, 18 Ziyad Elkhawad, 19 Tom Wade, 20 Luke Castenskiold, 21 Lucas Wilson, 22 Alex Cahill.