The Champions Trophy has become known for drama in its short history, but it has perhaps never seen more drama that on Wednesday afternoon in South West London.
Hampton hosted the reigning champions, Dulwich College, and the two served up an absolute treat as Hampton secured a 25-21 victory with a dramatic try in the final play of the game.
It was heady stuff, the players, staff, spectators, and even us neutrals were all wrapped up in the drama of it – thank goodness there was a referee to remind us all of formalities such as the conversion and final whistle.
A lot of pre match focus was on the head to head between the two full backs, two of the finest in the country in Saracens’ Max Bliss of Dulwich College and Harlequins’ Louis Lynagh of Hampton.
Unfortunately, not long after Hampton had taken a 3-0 lead with a penalty, Bliss was forced off with in injury. However his side barely skipped a beat, scoring just a couple of minutes later for a 7-3 lead.
A pattern began to emerge, Dulwich were keen to play their offloading game and Hampton, while hopeful of playing in the Dulwich half, were also happy to get the ball through the hands to the space out wide.
That tactic paid off on 22 minutes with an excellent try on the right wing, but once again Dulwich, resilient as ever, hit back with a try for their openside, despite a valiant attempt from Lynagh.
The England U18 full back was growing into the game, but had those inside him to that with a few minutes to go until the half as his number 8 burst through from deep inside his own half before eventually being hauled down. Through the hands to the outside centre it went though, who placed a delicious grubber through for Lynagh to score and reduce the deficit to 13-14.
If he had those inside him to thank there though, the whole team was thanking him but a minute later when he scored an individual try of breathtaking quality. Collecting the ball in his own 22 with numbers to his left, he saw the defence over-drift and stepped hard off his left foot. In a flash he was up to the halfway line through explosive footwork and power, a brief handoff and a flash of pace later, he was scoring in the right hand corner to send Hampton in at half time 18-14 ahead.
Where the fast half had been open, the second half was a tighter affair, with the prize beginning to dawn on both sides. It was Dulwich that struck first, through a maul reminiscent of their Schools Cup winning days, sending them 21-18 ahead.
From there though it was largely a game of defence for the reigning champions, but what wonderful defence it was. Time and time again they repelled Hampton’s attack, and as time began to tick on, there was a sense that maybe this side that has been so good this season was going to hang on.
On the touchlines thoughts turned to the mathematics of a draw, who would go through? With Dulwich defending so stoically Hampton’s best shot was beginning to look like a penalty or a drop goal. It wouldn’t have been enough – perhaps the players were better briefed than the rest of us – try count back would have been the first port of call, and with that even it would have come down to conversions, on that score Dulwich were ahead.
So it was a try that was needed, and camped on their own ten metre line that now seemed a huge effort for Hampton. When it comes to the Champions Trophy, we should no better than to think that might be too much.
The 2015 St Joseph’s Festival winners summoned that title winning spirit, knocking a penalty to within mauling distance of the Dulwich line. It was do or die stuff now, both sides knew it. Dulwich had repelled Hampton onslaughts over and over, the question was, could they now?
In the lineout went, down the ball came, and then in the blink of an eye Hampton’s Head Boy, JT, was crashing over the line and pandemonium had broken loose. It felt like Tony Woodcock in the 2011 World Cup final for New Zealand. We were all expecting a slow rumble and then from 15 metres out it was suddenly all over before there was time to brace for it.
It was a stunning finish to a brilliant game of rugby, a brilliant game of rugby in which both sides contributed in equal measure. Time and time again this tournament delivers for drama, but never like this.
With Dulwich now out, the search goes out for a new Champion now – and with Bedford also losing to Hurstpierpoint College, that champion will be a first time champion.
After a performance like this, and with that sort of spirit, few would rule out Hampton.
Full Time: Hampton 25-22 Dulwich College
For a roundup of the last 16 stage and a look ahead to tomorrows games, please follow this link: Champions Trophy Last 16 Update