Hampton did just enough to overcome former champions Tonbridge by a score of 24-15 in a game largely dominated by defences until the closing minutes.
These two schools met in the first round in 2016, a game that was the Kent school’s first step towards winning the Trophy that term. This season, both teams had met a common opponent, Cranleigh, losing by similar scores. A tight game seemed in prospect.
As well as investing in a 3G pitch, Hampton have evidently made significant improvements to the drainage of their natural turf pitches, and, despite heavy rain in the South-East the previous evening, the playing surface looked in perfect condition under sunny skies with a light breeze blowing across the pitch. The visitors kicked off and, after Hampton had cleared beyond half way, were caught offside, giving Hampton the chance to gain and early lead, but fly half Jamie Benson’s kick drifted wide.
With defences showing good line speed and tackling technique, winning regular turnovers, both sides struggled to get across the gain line. Finally Hampton, winning a lineout on the right, won some decent field position, hooker Iestyn Humphrey making some hard yards, but an interception enabled Tonbridge to clear. The home side again won lineout ball and, after initially setting up a maul, moved the ball through the hands to the left. After Humphrey had again been the key ball carrier, possession was recycled and centre Jesper Hartikainen found space to cross for the opening score, Benson converting.
Tonbridge looked like hitting back from the restart when Hampton were penalised, and the ensuing attacking line-out won on the left. The forwards drove close to the line and although the defence forced a turnover the ball went forward, giving the visitors an attacking scrum. With possession won and the ball moved through the hands, Tonbridge drove into the 22, where Hampton were penalised for a high tackle and an attacking line-out set up in the right corner. That was won and a maul took play close to the line, where successive thrusts by the forward pack eventually saw referee Phil Bowers award the try. Full back Thomas Tribe’s conversion attempt just missed.
Hampton ran out possession from the restart and, although their progress was halted by an excellent tackle from prop Hamish Yeldham, possession was retained. Second row Josh Haws made some hard yards, but possession was kicked away when the ball came back from the breakdown. Although Tonbridge again showed the effectiveness of their maul, the ball went forward and first phase ball from the ensuing scrum was moved through the hands by Hampton with replacement Louis Goodwin injecting some additional pace. With play taken up to the 5m line, possession was again recycled and sustained pressure on the line by the forwards saw replacement Alex Taylor get downward pressure over the line, Benson again converting.
HT: Hampton 14-5 Tonbridge
The home side dominated possession and territory after the interval. A strong carry by No 8 Tommy Nagle took play deep into the 22 and, although Hampton were penalised for holding on, the attempted kick to touch was just kept infield by the cross-wind and pressure in the Tonbridge 22 was maintained. With Hampton winning an attacking scrum on the left, the ball was moved through the hands to the right and wing Dan Finlay almost squeezed in at the corner but was stopped by an excellent cover tackle. Again Hampton retained possession and the powerfully built replacement prop David Ellis broke through tackles before being pulled down just short of the line. Massive sustained pressure on the line was met by tenacious defence and, although efforts were made to touch the ball against the base of the post, Mr Bowers ruled that a potentially game winning try had not been scored. The defence eventually forced a penalty and pressure was relieved.
Tonbridge must have been encouraged by successfully withstanding this threat and set about gaining some field position, but had difficulty in winning their ball from set piece. Hampton seemed content to rely on their kicking game but a charged down kick suddenly gave Tonbridge an opening. With the loose ball recovered, the forward back drove to within a few metres of the posts and a try looked likely, the defence eventually conceding a penalty under the posts. With time still on the clock, Tonbridge opted to take the three points which would put them within a converted try of the lead, and Tribe was duly successful from the tee.
With the Hampton lead reduced, the game started to open up. Hampton, with an excellent take from the restart, gained good field position and won a scrum in midfield on the Tonbridge 22, giving a range of attacking options from the set piece. From that scrum half Luke Greenall went on a classic sniping run and just outpaced the cover defence to score under the posts, Benson converting.
The Tonbridge response was immediate, winning possession from the restart. The ball was moved through the hands on the left and an excellent break by centre Oliver Walker saw him run close to the line, before offloading to wing Hugo Cordeschi who crossed for the score. With Tribe’s conversion successful, the deficit was back to six points.
The home side realised that another score would be necessary to make the game safe and managed to take play into the Tonbridge 22 from the restart, winning a penalty in midfield on the 22. Benson made no mistake from the tee and the lead was back to two scores, with time running out. Tonbridge were undaunted and almost managed one of those on the final play, winning possession from the restart, and fly half Marc Purves producing an excellent pass to open up the defence on the left. However, although the line beckoned, the ball went forward, signalling the end of the game.
This was a thrilling game between two quality sides. Hampton did just enough to clinch the result and now face a visit to Berkhamsted in the second round, where the tournament looks set to truly light up after a first round that consisted of just four fixtures.
FT: Hampton 24-15 Tonbridge
By Peter Crawshaw
Theo Johnson (Capt), Iestyn Humphrey, Rupert Reddish, Max Goldin, Jack Slaney, Archer Chilcott, George Price, Tommy Nagle, Luke Greenall, Jamie Benson, Aidan Barry, Tim Lamming, Jesper Hartikainen, Dan Finlay.
Replacements: David Ellis, Toby Robinson, Lucas Mangham, Alex Taylor, Joe Sykes, Louis Goodwin, Dylan Straker-Grimes.
Barnes Darligton, Will Rees-Young, Hamish Yeldham, Tom Wooldridge, James Barry, Sam Gilland (Capt), Finn Bradley, Sam Craig, James Flaherty, Marc Purves (Vice-Capt), Jacques Behling, Zac Crossley, Oliver Walker, Higo Cordeschi, Thomas Tribe.
Replacements: Will Webster, Will O’Leary, Edward Surguy, Daniel Howlett.