Northampton Saints U17s secured a narrow 21-17 win over the ISRFC Lambs on Tuesday night at Northampton BBOB RFC.
Atrocious weather conditions immediately made the Lambs’ task a tricky one, with a soaking wet pitch that became increasingly muddy and slippery, and a ball like a bar of soap, their ‘Fast and Free’ approach was put under one of its greatest challenges.
Those conditions immediately handed an advantage to the academy side, who were playing to the conditions with lots of tight physicality and an intelligent kicking game, while the Lambs stuck true to their principles.
That tight physical play led to an early score for Northampton as they turned the ball over and then kept it tight before barreling over. The game was barely older than 10 minutes when Saints crossed for their second, again from a turnover as this time they moved it wide to the corner.
It seemed as though Saints might just run away with it, the conditions proving such an obstacle to the way the Lambs wanted to play. The invitation side persevered though, running everything back at Saints and making some excellent line breaks.
Everything was from deep though, with Northampton’s half backs pinning the ball back into the Lambs’ 22 and effectively telling them that if they wanted to score they would have to do it from range.
The Lambs were up for the challenge though, and when Cheltenham College winger Jamie Thorley broke down the right hand side from around 40 metres out, they finally had their chance. He offloaded out of the tackle as it passed through several pairs of hands before Uppingham’s Milo Linney, playing at outside centre rather than wing in this fixture, gathered and did superbly well to finish for a quite breathtaking score.
That sent the Lambs in at the break 14-5 down to Saints after a half that had sparks of brilliance but was punctuated by a number of scrums due to handling errors as a result of conditions.
That was to continue into the second half, where the penalty count began to increase too. As the pitch became increasingly brown and wet, players could hardly help but go off their feet at the breakdown, while the temptation to leave hands lingering for a little longer than usual crept in as the heavy pitch started sapping the energy.
Saints for the first score of the half, another powerful effort close in. It came very early in the half, stretching their advantage to 21-5.
From there the Lambs enjoyed the bulk of possession and by and large dominated the few chances that the game allowed. Durham’s Sam Newton was a real livewire at scrum half , while number 8 and captain Matt Harris (Berkhamsted) was giving a real example to the spectators of just why is captain of this side as time and time again he carried hard into the Northampton defence before bouncing back up, chest out, leading the way. Millfield’s Ben Mallett was similarly inspirational with the ball in hand at times too.
An increasing penalty count for Saints eventually resulted in a yellow card for one of their second rows (by this point identifying numbers was a near impossibility), and the Lambs soon took advantage with Pangbourne College’s Alex Zenda crashing over following a short range tap penalty.
Royal Hospital School’s Toby Buckland converted with a drop kick, how it ever bounced back up off the sodden muddy turf will remain a mystery, narrowing the scores to 21-12 with four minutes remaining.
The Lambs kept pressing on, and as the clock neared the red, they earned a scrum just over five metres from the Saints line. Scrums had long since gone uncontested and, showing rugby intelligence that Eddie Jones would surely have paid good money for on Sunday, Matt Harris moved himself from number 8 to scrum half for this one.
This enabled the skipper to whip around the scrum from left to right, gathering the ball at pace and crashing over for the Lambs’ third try. A simple, yet beautifully executed, piece of rugby.
The conversion was missed but with time up it did not matter, the Lambs had leveled the try scoring stats, but Saints had taken the game, 21-17.
Both sides contributed to an engaging game of rugby in seriously testing conditions. The Lambs’ were, perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, the more entertaining, but Saints’ game management and sensible play was ultimately the difference between the two. Both sides will have gone home knowing that they had been in a brute of a game though.
Speaking following the game, Lambs National Director Alex Laybourne said:
“I thought we played some fantastic rugby in difficult conditions. Three tries each shows what we are capable of doing with the ball, and give or take a couple of mistakes it is a result that could easily have gone our way. Credit to the boys for digging deep and fighting back as they did – they are truly playing in the spirit of the ‘Fast and Free’ philosophy.”
Full Time: Northampton Saints U17 21-17 ISRFC Lambs
|ISRFC Lambs XV v Northampton Saints U17|
|15||Henry Wright||Queen Ethelburga’s|
|14||Daniel Marsik||Kent College, Canterbury|
|11||Dekoye Coker||St Edward’s, Oxford|
|10||Toby Buckland||Royal Hospital School|
|1||Didi Vidal-Adegun||Bishop Stortford College|
|2||Matthew Gallagher||Kirkham Grammar|
|3||Oscar Hardman||Hymers College|
|4||Guy Whittaker||Hymers College|
|6||Francois Roussow||Royal Hospital School|
|7||Cedric Hoskyns-Abrahall||Royal Hospital School|
|8||Matt Harris (c)||Berkhamsted|
|16||Alexander Zenda||Pangbourne College|
|17||Ben Waddington||Woodhouse Grove|
|18||Louis Fraser||Woodhouse Grove|
|20||Joshua Hart||Denstone College|
|21||Jamie Thorley||Cheltenham College|
Northampton Saints U17
15 Jake Johnson, 14 Ro Kevuel Tavainavesi, 13 Sol Hyde, 12 Sam Cappaert, 11 Sam Tutt, 10 Connor Tupai, 9 Finn Creighton, 1 Fraser Thompson, 2 Luke Risman, 3 Jack Hughes, 4 Fred Betteridge, 5 Alex Coles, 6 Conor Finch, 7 Joe Wallace, 8 Tom Addison.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Chilvers, 17 Ed McDowell, 18 Mitchell Brown, 19 George Whalley, 20 Charlie Rylands, 21 Ethan Benstead, 22 Emmannuel Iyogun, 23 Tom Williams, 24 Sam Hurd, 25 Adam Williamson, 26 Tyler Mills, 27 Josh Lack, 28 Cameron Sharpe.