Whitgift School, despite enjoying the slope advantage, were hard pressed to defend their half time lead, just managing to resist a strong final quarter come-back by Haileybury to record a 10-7 Daily Mail Trophy win.
Haileybury Director of Rugby Michael Owen had some months previously sounded out Chris Wilkins, his opposite number at Whitgift, about a possible fixture. So, when RGS High Wycombe (one presumes with their upcoming NatWest U18 Cup clash with Dean Close in mind) withdrew from their 1st XV fixture with Whitgift, there was an obvious solution. Although the intention had been to proceed with the other games in the original block fixture, those were in the event severely curtailed by the impact of heavy overnight rain which had rendered many of the South Croydon school’s pitches unplayable. Thankfully the ground staff agreed that the Bigside playing surface had recovered sufficiently and the Haileybury fixture was able to proceed.
With the Hertfordshire school not entered for either Champions Trophy or NatWest Cup and their focus on the Daily Mail Trophy where they have recorded decisive wins against Eton and Stamford, they had no concerns about upcoming midweek fixtures. Whitgift clearly saw the game as an opportunity to test their side against a school that had narrowly lost to Felsted, their NatWest Cup opponents on Wednesday. Either way this was an intriguing match-up between two strong schools that had not faced each other at the fifteen a side game for over ten years.
The home side kicked off up the slope and soon enjoyed some territorial advantage. Second row George Hammond made some hard yards before offloading to prop Aristot Benz Salomon to take play into the Haileybury 22 but a cross kick to the corner just found touch-in-goal. Haileybury eventually broke out of defence and retained possession through successive phases with hooker Kapelieli Pifeleti and captain Kyle Douglas making some hard yards. Little territory was gained until Douglas made ground on the left and although he was stopped Whitgift were penalised for a high tackle, and fly half Sam Cappaert stepped up to look for three points from the tee. His kick was however sliced wide of the posts, possibly a consequence of the kick being from a particularly greasy area of the pitch.
Whitgift soon re-established their territorial advantage, after further work by Benz Salomon and a break by fly half Ed Dunford. A penalty was won and kicked to the right corner and from the ensuing line-out and maul Hammond drove over for the opening score, full back Joe Parkes converting. The home side continued to keep play in the Haileybury half, winning successive penalties, the last of which enabled Parkes to extend their lead from the tee. With the advantage of the slope to come in the second half, Whitgift would have been justifiably content with the scoreline at the interval.
Half time: Whitgift School 10-0 Haileybury
The second half began as scripted, with Whitgift, having brought 1st XV captain Rory Hazelton on at scrum half, making good use of the slope. Hooker Taine Wagstaff and Hazelton combined to take play deep into the right corner and a period of sustained pressure on the Haileybury line ensued, with Whitgift coming close in the left corner where left wing Charlie Cadogan was stopped just short. Although conceding a couple of penalties, the Haileybury defence was excellent, containing the Whitgift maul and showing good line speed when the ball was switched to the backs. Finally the ball was hacked clear to half way, signalling a complete change in momentum.
After winning a penalty in midfield, kicked to touch on the left, Haileybury won the ensuing line-out on the 22 and flanker Duncan Henderson broke through. Cappaert, who had had little opportunity to run hitherto, carried play on deep into the 22 and Douglas came close to scoring under the posts. Although he was stopped, the defence were penalised and a quick tap was taken, putting prop Sam Hurding into space on the right and he dived over unopposed. With Cappaert converting, Haileybury were now right back in the game.
The Hertfordshire school were now on the front foot, with Cappaert and Pifeleti carrying strongly to take play back into the Whitgift 22. Although the pressure was briefly lifted, Haileybury continued to attack the 10 / 12 channel with some success through Cappaert and the powerfully built inside centre Jamie Hoyes, and winning most of the collisions. Successive penalties conceded by Whitgift at the breakdown resulted in yellow being shown to Dunford and the pressure continued to build with two attacking line-outs on the Whitgift 22.
Whitgift were now hanging on and a second score for Haileybury looked likely, but good work at the breakdown by flanker Jake Monson forced a penalty and the ball was cleared to half way, where prop Joe Morris, back on after being replaced earlier by Jonathan Benz Salomon, did well to retain possession. Whitgift managed to keep the ball long enough to hear the relief of the final whistle without any addition to the score.
This was a well contested game of high quality played with ferocious intensity, and both sides looked justifiably exhausted at the end after giving everything. Whitgift will rue one or two missed scoring opportunities but there looked to be no fresh injury worries and they undoubtedly had a useful preparation for their upcoming Cup tie at Felsted where they will be looking to reverse last season’s result. Haileybury are due to host another Surrey side, Champions Trophy semi-finalists St John’s Leatherhead next week-end.
Full time: Whitgift School 10-7 Haileybury
Schools Rugby Correspondent
Whitgift School: Aristot Benz Salomon, Taine Wagstaff, Jacob Morris, Maximilian Greatwood, George Hammond, Oliver Norris, Jake Monson (Captain), Harry Breeze, Thibaut Dubois, Ed Dunford, Charlie Cadogan, Reece Brown, Adefela Lipede, Taino Goveia, Joe Parkes
Replacements: Lewis Glasspole, Jonathan Benz Salomon, Matthew Dobson, Rory Hazelton, Jakob Madsen-Jensen
Haileybury: Sam Hurding, Kapelieli Pifeleti, William McKenna, Matthew Cook, Oliver Moody, Duncan Henderson, Edward Harris, Kyle Douglas (Captain), Hugo Gallagher Boyden, Sam Cappaert, James Clark, Jamie Hoyes, Harry Collins, Yunosuke Shimizu, Spencer Owen (Vice-captain)
Replacements: Edward Holroyd, Martin Pearce