Hampton conjured a remarkable score on the final play to defeat Cranleigh after the Surrey side had scored twice to level the scores.
It was good to see this block fixture reappear in these schools’ fixture lists after a gap of several years. Even though Hampton have had a successful season, putting holders Dulwich out of the Champions Trophy and winning the Plate competition at the St Joseph’s Festival, they suffered the setback of elimination from the Champions Trophy at the quarter-final stage. Cranleigh, with only a few players returning from last season’s outstandingly successful side and forced to concede home field advantage in some early fixtures due to pitch problems, have had a mixed season, with good wins against Hurtspierpoint and RGS Guildford but losses to Brighton (by a single score) and Epsom.
Thankfully the forecasts of heavy rain had proved to be inaccurate, and the 1st XV pitch was in excellent condition as Cranleigh kicked off. The home side enjoyed the majority of possession in the opening minutes, but good Cranleigh defence forced fly half Jamie Benson to chip over the top. His kick was fielded by wing George Morison and a clearance kick made, but this was run back and the ball moved quickly through the hands to create an overlap for right-wing Felix Boardman, who showed an excellent turn of pace to score in the corner. Benson’s touchline conversion attempt was on target to secure the extras.
After a break in midfield by outside centre Hayden Hyde, Hampton conceded a penalty from which a kick to the corner by inside centre Sam Lubbock kicked to the left corner. Although possession was won, turnover ball allowed Hampton to clear. Hampton’s kicking game continued to work effectively and after good recycling, a penalty was won and an attacking line-out set up on the Cranleigh 22. The first phase possession was moved to the backs but full-back Louis Lynagh’s offload did not reach the intended recipient and Cranleigh recovered.
The home side was then forced to concede a penalty in midfield and Lubbock again put the ball into the corner. The ball was moved through the hands from the ensuing line-out possession and another penalty won close to the line. This was taken quickly and although the Cranleigh forwards were stopped just short, the pressure on the line continued, with the defence forced to concede further penalties. Finally, a chip over the defence on the right was gathered by Hyde who offloaded to Morison to squeeze in at the corner. After a lengthy wait to get the tee on the field Lubbock’s conversion attempt drifted wide.
Cranleigh then suffered a setback when Lubbock was forced to leave the field with a shoulder injury, causing them to reshuffle their backs, though they were able to call up from the bench, returning from injury, Oscar Beard, who had made some key contributions to last year’s 1st XV though still an U16. A series of penalties won enabled Hampton to take play close to the Cranleigh line and finally, they opted to take the points, Benson making no mistake from the tee in front of the posts.
Half-time: Hampton 10-5 Cranleigh
The visitors had an early chance after the interval to level the scores when Hyde made a clean line break in midfield, breaking into the 22. There appeared to be an opportunity of an overlap on the left but the Cranleigh captain opted to cut infield and take contact. Although possession was retained and the ball moved to Morison on the right, the wing was forced into touch. Cranleigh were judged to have infringed at the ensuing line-out and, with the referee adding a further ten metres for backchat, the pressure was relieved.
As Hampton looked to gain territory a charged down kick inside their own half rather fortuitousely came back directly to Lynagh, and he took the opportunity of broken play to set off on a trademark 40m run, shrugging off tackles before offloading to Benson on the 22. A period of pressure on the Cranleigh line in the right corner followed. No 8 Nicholas Bitzakidis was stopped just short, and from the ensuing 5m scrum Hampton looked to put Lynagh in on the right but the defence held firm. After another 5m scrum excellent handling on the left saw Boardman come off his wing and crash over in the corner. Benson once again produced a superb kick from the touchline to extend the lead.
The game now entered a critical phase as Cranleigh strove to reverse the momentum. Lynagh’s running continued to provide a threat but it was the visitors who struck next. A number of free kicks had been awarded for line-out infringements: from one of these on their 22 Cranleigh opted to run possession and Beard made a clean break on the left before finding prop Max St John in support. He showed exemplary pace for a front row forward and sprinted in under the posts, fly-half Jasper adding the extras.
With the deficit down to a single score, Cranleigh upped the tempo. After an injury stoppage, good hands gave Morison the chance on an overlap on the right. Although he was stopped, possession was retained and a series of drives at the line made by the forwards, from which St John eventually forced his way over for a second try. The touchline conversion attempt was unsuccessful, leaving the scores level with less than ten minutes left.
Despite the increasing darkness, it was immediately evident that neither side would be content to settle for a draw. Hampton had the first opportunity after charging down Cranleigh’s attempted clearance kick from the restart and winning a penalty, kicked to touch on the Cranleigh 22. However, the line-out was lost and Hyde again stretched his legs to give Cranleigh a glimmer of an opportunity, but his offload did not go to hand and Cranleigh were forced to kick clear on what looked like the final play.
The kick was fielded by Benson on half-way and he put in a cross-kick into the wide space on the left. It looked as if the ball would run into touch but it continued to roll along the touchline and was gathered by left wing Aidan Barry who evaded would-be tacklers to score under the posts. The kicking duties were passed to centre Patrick Silcox who added the conversion and the referee blew for full time.
This was one of the most gripping school games that I have seen this term. Both sides looked to play positive rugby throughout, and Cranleigh must be applauded for the way in which they clawed their way back into contention despite having lost a key player to injury. Benson was the man of the match for me: his game management was arguably the difference between the two sides, no mean achievement in a 1st XV game for someone who is not yet 16.
Both schools face some strong challenges in the final weeks of term. Cranleigh host Marlborough at home, before travelling to Whitgift who will be keen to reverse their heavy defeat last season. Hampton have rescheduled their 1st XV fixture with Wellington (postponed due to Hampton’s Cup game at Hurstpierpoint) to be played under lights at London Irish, but prior to that face Brighton and Dulwich in block fixtures.
Full-time: Hampton 24-17 Cranleigh
Hampton School: Alex Boag, George Price, Theo Johnson, Max Goldin, James Thompson, Tommy Nagle, Archer Chilcott, Nicholas Bitzakidis (Vice-Capt.), Ed Lord, Jamie Benson, Aidan Barry, Patrick Silcox, Jesper Hartikainen, Felix Boardman, Louis Lynagh (Capt.)
Replacements: Jack Berg, Louis Goodwin
Cranleigh School: Max St John, Ross Kiely, David Ofori, Jonty Marshall, Ollie Corbett, Piers Nicholls, Bear Williams (Vice-Capt.), Will Trenholm, Jago Bailey, Jasper Sykes, Joshua Dodson, Sam Lubbock, Hayden Hyde (Capt.), George Morison, Fin Brow
Replacements: Luke Mann, Oscar Beard