The Royal Grammar School Guildford overcame a narrow halftime deficit with a strong second half performance to progress to the second round of the RFU Schools Champions Trophy at the expense of former Champions, Tonbridge School.
Although these two schools used to enjoy an early season block fixture, this was the first time that they had played each other in a number of years. This RGS year group had recorded an impressive record as U16s two years ago, with a narrow defeat to St John’s Leatherhead the only blemish, and over half of the side had been part of a determined performance against an Ollie Lawrence led Bromsgrove side in this competition last autumn. Tonbridge were fielding a number of new faces, with only centre Michael Purves a regular 1st XV player last year. The immaculately prepared Tonbridge pitches were bathed in sunshine and conditions perfect for this eagerly awaited match-up.
The home side kicked off and enjoyed the lion’s share of early possession and territory, but were met with strong tackling and good line speed from the RGS defence. Tonbridge then broke through with Michael Purves putting left wing Hugo Cordeschi into space and he made ground into the 22, but the ball was scrambled into touch and RGS were able to clear from the ensuing lineout. Finally RGS started to see some possession, with inside centre Alfie Johnson making a half break in midfield, but it was Tonbridge who opened the scoring after 20 minutes. After captain Ollie Green had made some hard yards, a long miss pass picked out Cordeschi on the left and the wing sprinted deep into the RGS 22 before offloading to outside centre Oliver Walker who scored on the left. Thomas Tribe’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
RGS remained on the back foot when Sean Donnelly’s restart kick went directly into touch, but a Tonbridge knock-on gave possession back to the Surrey side and good hands took play into the Tonbridge half, where an offside decision gave Donnelly the chance to find touch on the right inside the 22. The lineout was cleanly won and first phase possession saw the ball moved swiftly to Johnson who found an excellent line in midfield to carve straight through the defence and score under the posts, Donnelly converting.
The powerful Tonbridge runners continued to be met by strong tackling but the pressure eventually told when turnover ball gave Tonbridge an opening on the right. Tribe linked with Michael Purves who found Edward Surguy on the right and the wing dived in at the corner. The touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful. Although the restart was secured, another infringement at the breakdown gave possession back to RGS. A kick to the left corner was successfully fielded by the defence, but referee Steve Wagstaff was playing advantage for offside and Donnelly duly put the ball into the corner. With the lineout won, RGS twice looked to use Johnson’s pace in midfield with the centre being stopped just short of the line, but the defence was judged to have acted illegally by Mr Wagstaff who awarded a penalty try.
It seemed that RGS’s clinical finishing would give them a halftime lead, somewhat against the run of play this far, but Tonbridge were determined to make use of the final play, driving deep into the RGS 22 and winning a penalty under the posts. The chance to take three points was not taken, Tribe putting the ball into the left corner. The lineout was won and the driving maul crossed the line, Mr Wagstaff awarding the try with hooker Kit Tyler apparently emerging as the scorer. Again the difficult conversion was missed.
Half-time: Tonbridge 15-14 RGS Guildford
Tonbridge were worthy of their half time lead, given territory and possession, but the visitors seemed energised after the interval, winning a lineout on a Tonbridge throw and moving the ball to Johnson who offloaded well to left wing Matt Harris. He was stopped, but the defence were penalised and an attacking lineout set up on the 22. A period of sustained pressure on the Tonbridge line followed. Although Johnson was successfully tackled and multiple drives towards the line by the RGS forward pack were met by staunch defence, second row Alasdair Bullman finally drove over to score in the corner. The touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The momentum was now clearly with the visitors, with Johnson’s running a constant threat and renewed pressure created on the Tonbridge line. A well-judged kick by Donnelly to the left corner picked out second row Ethan Illman who crossed to score on the left, Donnelly converting. With RGS two scores ahead Tonbridge were on the back foot, bu,t although possession was secured at the restart, Donnelly’s attempted clearance kick was charged down and the ball came to Walker who raced in to score under the posts, Tribe converting.
The home crowd made every effort to exhort their side to another score, and it seemed that they would be successful when a penalty gave them an attacking lineout on the 22. A further penalty was conceded by the RGS defence from the ensuing maul, Mr Wagstaff adding a further 10m. With a four point gap, the decision not to take the points was unsurprising and the lineout won in the right corner. Tonbridge elected to move the ball through the hands but a long pass was anticipated by RGS full back Tom Eves who gathered and sprinted clear. Although an excellent cover tackle prevented a score, the moment was lost.
The decisive score came once again from Johnson. After the centre had made an initial break on the left possession was retained and the ball came back to Johnson who crossed under the posts, Donnelly converting. With only a few minutes left, it looked unlikely that the home side could pull back the two tries required, but they made every effort to create at least one score. Loose head prop Tom Harris continued to be an effective ball carrier, taking play to the RGS 22, but Tonbridge were penalised. Successive carries by Green saw hard yards made before the ball was moved through the hands on the left but it was lost forward. At last Donnelly was able to clear to touch to bring the final whistle.
Full time: Tonbridge 22-33 RGS Guildford
Tonbridge School: Tom Harris (Vice-Capt), Kit Tyler, George Yeldham, Oliver Phillips, Philip Saunes, Finn Bradley, Sam Gilliland, Olly Green (Capt), Barney Toomer, Thomas Tribe, Hugo Cordeschi, Michael Purves (Vice-Capt), Oliver Walker, Edward Surguy, Marc Purves
Replacements: Barnes Darlington, Cameron Flower, Luc Bowkley, Tobias Green, Henry Goodall
Royal Grammar School, Guildford: Albert Ismaligov, George Bailey, Roy Brett, Alasdair Bullman, Ethan Illman, Thomas Chua, Eric Roberts, Angus Lovatt (Vice-Capt), Fergus Middleton (Vice-Capt), Sean Donnelly, Matt Harris, Alfie Johnson, Will Fitch (Capt), Matthew Curtis, Tom Eves
Replacements: Harvey Brooks, Ciaran Taylor, Will Sharland, Will Perceval, Edward Robinson, Tom Perceval