The opening games of the season are often tense affairs with so much falling into the unknown category, so it was as Dulwich College hosted Wellington College for their curtain-raiser this season.
What was known was that both sides would look to play, as play they did. Kicks from hand were minimal through the game and even when they did come they were generally in an attacking sense with players looking to chip ahead.
Wellington College took it, 27-14, but that was just the start of a tale of a keenly fought game of rugby between two of school rugby’s brightest lights.
Dulwich started the brighter of the two, going 2-0 up after 7 minutes and 6-0 up ten minutes later. The error count was a bit too high form Wellington early only, while Dulwich were probably feeling that they might have come away with more, a couple of passes just slipping out of hand with the try line coming into view.
Early season rustiness, it looked like. Both sides were showing a lot of ambition, but perhaps as a result of that strong pre-season fixture against Felsted last week Dulwich looked the more comfortable in that opening quarter.
It seemed a matter of time though before Wellington would find their rhythm too, such is the quality in their ranks with the likes of Baxter, Reid, Sinfield, and Rossiter to call upon, among others.
As Sinfield found his range, the cogs turned into place for the men in gold and black. The ball moved from right to left and with a deft dab with his boot he dinked the ball over the onrushing defence to leave his winger, Harry Williams, with a run to the line.
Sinfield himself converted to give the visitors the lead for the first time in the game at 7-6. The score gave Wellington a visible lift, but Dulwich were unbowed. Reid and Rossiter were causing havoc with their barnstorming runs, but once brought down the Dulwich College defence was stoic.
In Max Bliss they possess a full back of real quality, and with every touch of the ball he looked a threat – not least when taking the classic full back lines on the shoulder of his outside centre.
7-6 it stayed until the half though, however much like the first half it was Dulwich that struck first in the second half in front of a strong crowd on their pristine 1st XV field.
Wellington College struck right back though and in a blistering ten minutes of intensity and ambition they closed out the match. Tries came through hooker Lucas Brooke at the end of a driving maul, driving over the following ruck before tighthead Baxter repeated the trick off the tail of a maul on the left hand side this time.
Two minutes later they scored the try of the game as Theo Burn, on as a replacement on the wing, blistered in from 30 metres out, showing great pace and evasion skills. He owed a huge debt of thanks to Sinfield though, whose heads up play saw him ghost through a gap that nobody else saw on halfway before releasing his winger. With Sinfield converting one of the three tries, suddenly a 9-7 deficit had turned into a 24-7 lead for Wellington, soon to be 27-9 when Sinfield slotted a penalty shortly after.
It was the sort of intense period of play that we often praise sides like the All Blacks so vociferously for. In ten or so minutes Wellington had turned a really tight game of rugby into one that was all but wrapped up.
Dulwich had done little wrong, indeed for the best part of an hour of the game they would have felt on a par with their visitors, and fittingly in the final play of the game they did get a try for their efforts through the exceptional and deserving Bliss to leave the final score at 27-14.
To the rest of the watching schools rugby world though, this was an impressive Wellington display. Given that there was some early season rustiness in the opening quarter or so, that burst of quality in the middle stage of the second half was truly outstanding. You have to think that as the season wears on that they will only build on and extend that, and with that level of intensity, few will be able to cling on.
Dulwich will take heart from it though, it was only in a handful of areas that they were caught out and they will know that those areas can be tightened up in the coming weeks. All in all the impression left on all of those on the sidelines was that here were two sides sure to be leaving their mark at the top end of the school game once again this year.
Even more excitingly, two sides playing with real ambition. To see both sides happy to attack from anywhere on the pitch, using backs and forwards as interchangeable players, and kicking with creativity was a joy to watch.
An impressive start from Wellington College, and a fine game of rugby to kick the season off.
Full Time: Dulwich College 14-27 Wellington College
For our roundup of the weekend’s action, please follow this link: Schools Rugby Opening Weekend Roundup.