Wellington College became the 5th side to lift the Champions Trophy on Wednesday as they beat Epsom College 24-16 in one of the tightest finals there has been.
They follow Millfield, Bedford, Tonbridge, and Dulwich College, joining a roll call of some of the biggest names in schools rugby.
Both sides threw everything at it, as shown by their sheer exhaustion at the final whistle. There was little to choose between them through the game, but key tries at the start of either half were vital for Wellington, who scored four in total, culminating in a wonderful break from number 8 Tobias Scalabrini who sealed the game with a 60 metre break that will live long in the memory.
It was Scalabrini who opened the scoring too, barging over from short range after Wellington had lost their skipper Fin Rossiter and scrum half Jamie Miller to early injuries.
There rode that bad luck though and dominated the early possession though to score the try, with Sinfield converting for a 7-0 lead.
Epsom could have been in trouble there, but buoyed by a quite outstanding set of supporters, supporters to rival even Warwick’s enthusiastic Allianz Park crowds, they clawed their way back in. A penalty from their dominant fly half Jack Jesty narrowing things to 7-3.
Epsom began to dominate the ball, but they could not pierce the dogged Wellington defence, with Will Sinfield at twelve closing the space outside of him brilliantly with the sort of out to in rush that Andy Farrell would approve of.
Still, that much possession had to yield something, and so it did on 21 minutes as Jesty landed a second penalty to make it a one point game at 7-6.
We were then denied the try of the tournament, possibly the try of the season – and we don’t say that lightly – but a few moments later. Wellington turned the ball over deep in their own half before moving it right out to the left wing. Harry Cain broke towards halfway before giving the ball back to Sinfield, who chipped infield to the oncoming support.
Epsom made the recovery tackle, but Wellignton recycled an quickly moved the ball through the hands to the right hand side. It was sublime and thrilling rugby, but just as the line came begging, the ball spilled. The fans all around were on their feet though, cheering the sheer thrill of the truly wondrous Wellington move.
Nevertheless, it could not quite be finished, and the sides went in at half time with Wellington leading Epsom by just a point, 7-6.
Just as in the first half, it was Wellington College that came out firing early on, once again crossing the whitewash from close range through their forwards as Fin Baxter, now sharing the captaincy with Sinfield, barged over to make I 12-6.
Again though, Epsom stayed with the side many had as favourites prior to the game. With Jesty landing another, slightly odd, penalty. His attempt hit the upright, but on regathering Wellington were offside, earning him another closer attempt, which he promptly nailed for 12-9.
Then came the moment that almost sent the feverish Epsom crowd into overdrive as Jonny Hayes burst into the Wellington half from fullback. He released Bertie Bamber, who in turn released Jesty who scorched away to score under the sticks, converting his own try for a 16-12 try.
It was a sparkling bit of play, but this clinical and determined Wellington College side, in spite of their increasing injuries, started to dominate the ball again.
A penalty came their way, but rather than kick it they gave it to the explosive loosehead Marcus Rhodes, who stormed over the line from close range. Sinfield converted, and his side were back in front, 19-16. These were nervy times for both sides though, very nervy.
The game was utterly in the balance it felt as though either side could take the victory, all they needed was one moment. And then it came. Epsom College sent up the high ball, landing near the Wellington 10 metre line. Wellington went up but spilled it back, where Scalabrini gobbled up the loose ball.
The number 8 looked up, started the engine, and then unleashed an absolutely scorching set of wheels to race away fully sixty metres down the left hand touchline to score an absolutely sensational individual try.
It gave his side a 24-16 lead and, with less than five minutes remaining, it effectively sealed the game. It was a moment that will live with him and his team forever, a truly magical bit of rugby that was fitting to win any rugby match.
Win it, it did, a couple of minutes the whistle went and in a sign of the sheer effort exerted neither side could do much beyond sink down to their haunches.
Then came the part that really summed up everything about schoolboy rugby though. Epsom collected their losers medals, but rather than sulk or feel sorry for themselves they celebrated with their support, opting for the Icelandic clap. It was a pleasure to witness.
Then came the moment, the moment Wellington College became the fifth side to lift the Champions Trophy and for them too it was about celebrating with their friends and family. A monumental achievement from both sides just to be here, and heart-warming scenes at the end from both to show the sheer joy of schools rugby.
As ever, it has been a Champions Trophy to remember, especially for these two. A quite wonderful achievement for Wellington College, who have been truly outstanding right the way through this tournament.
With the holidays approaching, the celebrations will feel very very well deserved!
Full Time: Wellington College 24-16 Epsom College
15 Max Thomas, 14 Cassius Cleaves, 13 Ross Hanekom, 12 Will Sinfield (vc), 11 Harry Cain, 10 Monty Bradbury, 9 Jamie Miller, 1 Marcus Rhodes, 2 Ben Raho, 3 Fin Baxter (vc), 4 Ted Johnson, 5 Cassius Forshaw, 6 Lucas Brooke, 7 Fin Rossiter (c), 8 Tobias Scalabrini.
Replacements: 16 Ben Murrin, 17 Mack Keast, 18 Olly Cash, 19 Fin Livingstone-Learmouth, 20 Alfie Mason, 21 Hector Hlrington (20), 22 Theo Burn (19).
15 Jonny Hayes, 14 Adam Koep, 13 Theo Alexis, 12 Bertie Bamber, 11 Luke Laughton, 10 Jack Jesty (vc), 9 Tom Williams, 1 Nilesh Raghavan, 2 Riley Milsom, 3 Lennan Day (c), 4 Luke Nesbit, 5 Freddie Noble, 6 Andrew Palmer, 7 Makeen Alikhan, 8 George Addington.
Replacements: 16 William Page, 17 Gordon Chung, 18 Max Hales, 19 Maximillian Smeby, 20 Oliver Bliss, 22 James Webster, 22 Thomas Lynagh.
Referee: Tom Foley