Wellington College sealed the De La Salle Trophy at the St Joseph’s Festival on their return to the tournament after over a decade since their last appearance.
On their return to the tournament there was plenty of talk of their potential, particularly given their history and results this season, but living up to that potential is another matter entirely.
They more than did that though, beating fellow newcomers to the tournament Kirkham Grammar School 19-5 in the final to become the first side in schools rugby history to lift every single major title, the U18 Schools Cup, the Champions Trophy, the Daily Mail Trophy, the Rosslyn Park HSBC National Schools 7s, and now, the St Joseph’s Festival.
Truly, it is a stunning achievement. Few teams get to win any such tournaments, let alone each of those. Even more impressive, if you started the clock in 2008 they would still have managed it. That is a stunning achievement in such a remarkably short period of time.
For this generation the here and now should be what counts right now though, because in winning this St Joseph’s Festival title in such style was outstanding. The pressure was on, as high profile new entrants there was huge expectation on them and they delivered. Seven games, seven victories, and a brutally tough schedule. Just look at their opponents, Millfield, Hurstpierpoint College, and Whitchurch High School on Saturday, RGS Newcastle, Hampton, and Brighton College on Sunday, before that final against Kirkham. Four former winners in that crop and plenty of brilliant rugby players.
Wellington had plenty of brilliance themselves though, not least through skipper Fin Baxter, who captained England U18 this summer. The tighthead prop was not just one of the best players here this weekend, he was an inspiration to his team, through word and deed. Alongside him the likes of Finn Lock and Will Hobson were outstanding, Lock scoring a crucial try for them in their comeback against Hampton, while Ted Johnson was magnificent all weekend before sadly missing out on the final through injury.
Following Saturday’s initial groups, Wellington were in a Cup group alongside reigning champions RGS Newcastle, 2017 champions Brighton College, and 2015 champions, Hampton. Three tougher opponents they could not have picked if they had tried. Meanwhile the other group saw Kirkham Grammar alongside Denstone College, Whitchurch High School, and the hosts, St Joseph’s College.
The story of the day started good and early, with Whithcurch High School, who sneaked through on trys scored on Saturday, beating Denstone College 19-0. The Welsh side were truly one of the great stories of the tournament, making the Cup for the first time ever and proving themselves to be an absolutely superb side, a team that everyone struggled again. Kirkham meanwhile upset the hosts with one of the most powerfully dominant displays of the day, winning 22-0.
Wellington meanwhile were put under huge pressure by a Brighton College side who felt they had the tools to unpick this previously seemingly unbreakable Wellington College defence. They so nearly did, but Wellington were to prove here early on that they had the steel necessary to claim this prestigious Trophy, coming through for a 14-10 victory, while reigning champions RGS Newcastle strangled the life out of the game against Hampton for a 13-3 victory.
Wellington backed it up with an 18-10 victory but it was far from easy, behind and finding the going hard against a side that utterly lit up the tournament in the first day, it took a Finn Lock try to finally get their noses in front, setting up what was effectively a semi final against RGS, who had beaten Brighton College 15-0.
On the other side Kirkham Grammar School were given the fright of their lives by Whitchurch High School, who if there was an award for most spirited would surely have won it. Kirkham were 7-5 down in the last play before fly half Elliot Gourlay landed a brilliant touchline penalty for a dramatic 8-7 victory that bar any surprises would put them in the final, St Joseph’s College meanwhile providing plenty of drama of their own to keep the spirits of the home crowd high as they scored late on for a 21-19 victory over Denstone College.
The final round of games went as planned for Kirkham, beating Denstone College 10-0 to go into the final at the first attempt. In the euphoria of Wellington College’s victory, Kirkham’s achievement should not be underestimated either. They were tournament debutants and came in with just about as much expectation as Wellington. They proved to be a powerful, gritty, side, who could turn on the style when needed too, and were a wonderful addition to the tournament and a credit to themselves. Sadly for the hosts though, that Kirkham victory rather pooped their party, and Whitchurch then sealed their impressive weekend with a 15-5 victory.
Wellington College though had the unenviable task of having to beat RGS Newcastle to secure their place in the final and both were unbeaten and looking utterly superb. Clinical, powerful, and aware of how to win these games. Wellington were simply too much to handle though, ultimately for everyone, ending RGS’ reign as champions with a 19-0 victory.
There was some solace for RGS though, their wonderful England U18 tighthead, Phil Brantingham, was named Player of the Tournament, the first prop ever to receive the award – and deservedly so, his blend of power, nous, and skill was a sight to behold. Hampton also had something to celebrate, after beating Brighton College 28-5 in their final game, second row Jack Slaney was awarded Try of the Tournament for finishing off a wonderful end to end effort against QEGS Wakefield on Day 1.
What that all set up though was that the two newest sides to enter the tournament, Wellington College and Kirkham Grammar School, were in the final and you would not have found a dissenting voice among the many hundreds at this St Joseph’s Festival, both were magnificent.
It was a flying powerful opening half from Wellington College though, two tries from their loosehead Will Hobson whose powerful running had been a threat all weekend. With Max Thomas adding a conversion, 12-0 at half time looked a strong lead, as history tends to tell us.
However Kirkham Grammar, the fighters that they are, came battling back in the second half to reduce the deficit to 12-5 leaving plenty of nervous watchers in the crowd. The game hung in the balance but this superb Wellington College side never panicked. They punched back strongly working their way to left field and tying up number before flinging it out wide to the right hand side where Robbie Offord went flying over, sparking huge celebrations.
Thomas added the extras for a 19-5 lead that his side would hold onto for the remaining 90 seconds to seal this most outstanding of triumph’s.
Millfield sealed the plate, holding off a spirited RGS High Wycombe fightback for a 22-21 victory. The side containing the likes of Will Joseph and last year’s Player of the Tournament, Dan John, were disappointed to struggle on Saturday, but responded in the perfect manner here on Sunday, winning three out of three in their pool, conceding only two scores in those games and scoring a whopping 104 of their own.
In the final they raced out to a lead, but this plucky RGS High Wycombe side were never going to go away, as Millfield know having lost to them earlier this season, but this exciting group of Millfield youngsters were so determined to go away with a bit of silverware from this tournament, particularly having finished as runners up in the Cup in the previous two years.
Wellington College’s Achievement
The final word absolutely must go to Wellington College though, whose performance across the weekend was utterly superb. People were excited to see both them and Kirkham coming to this tournament, adding yet more top quality rugby to an a roster that was already outstanding.
Both absolutely confirmed all of those pre-tournament expectations, and in victory Wellington College sealed the most magnificent of triumphs. Word should also go to Head of Rugby Dan Richards, coming in to the school with the side in a difficult spot, his superb guidance has seen them collect two of the most prestigious tournaments in school rugby, the Champions Trophy and now the St Joseph’s Festival, in less than twelve months. For both staff and pupils it is an incredible achievement and on Sunday the side played with such passion, power, and skill, that all the rest of us could do was sit back and admire.
Cup Final: Wellington College 19-5 Kirkham Grammar
Plate Final: Millfield 22-21 RGS High Wycombe
Player of the Tournament: Phil Brantingham (RGS Newcastle)
Try of the Tournament: Jack Slaney (Hampton)
St Joseph’s Festival Day 2 Final Standings:
Cup Group A
|2||Whitchurch High School||2||0||1||4|
|3||St Joseph’s College||1||0||2||2|
Cup Group B
Plate Group W
|2||St Peter’s, York||2||0||1||4|
Plate Group X
|1||RGS High Wycombe||3||0||0||6|
St Joseph’s Festival Day 2 Results:
|Pitch 1||Time & Group||Pitch 2|
|Dulwich College 24-5 Eltham College||08.30am
|St Peter’s, York 7-27 Millfield|
|Kirkham Grammar 22-0 St Joseph’s College||9.05am
|Denstone College 0-19 Whitchurch High School|
|Hurstpierpoint College 23-0 John Fisher||09.40am
|RGS High Wycombe 6-3 QEGS Wakefield|
|Wellington College 14-10 Brighton College||10.15am
|RGS Newcastle 13-3 Hampton|
|Dulwich College 7-21 Millfield||10.50am
|St Peter’s, York 15-6 Eltham College|
|Denstone College 19-21 St Joseph’s College||11.25pm
|Kirkham Grammar 8-7 Whitchurch High School|
|Hurstpierpoint College 12-7 QEGS Wakefield||12.00pm
|RGS High Wycombe 17-7 John Fisher|
|Wellington College 18-10 Hampton||12.35pm
|RGS Newcastle 15-0 Brighton College|
|Dulwich College 14-17 St Peter’s, York||1.10pm
|Millfield 56-0 Eltham College|
|Whitchurch High School 15-5 St Joseph’s College||1.45pm
|Kirkham Grammar 10-0 Denstone College|
|Hurstpierpoint College 0-21 RGS High Wycombe||2.20pm
|QEGS Wakefield 12-10 John Fisher|
|Wellington College 19-0 RGS Newcastle||2.55pm
|Hampton 28-5 Brighton College|
|Millfield 22-21 RGS High Wycombe||3.30pm
|Kirkham Grammar 5-19 Wellington College||4.15pm
St Joseph’s Festival Day 1 Final Group Standings:
|3||St Peter’s, York||1||0||2||2|
|2||Whitchurch High School||1||0||2||2|
|2||St Joseph’s College||2||0||1||4|
|3||RGS High Wycombe||1||0||2||2|
St Joseph’s Festival Day 1 Results:
|Pitch 1||Time & Group||Pitch 2|
|Hampton 3-7 Kirkham Grammar||9.00am
|Dulwich College 10-7 QEGS Wakefield|
|John Fisher 10-13 St Peter’s York||9.40am
|Brighton College 5-14 Denstone College|
|Hurstpierpoint College 14-10 Millfield||10.20am
|Wellington College 41-0 Whitchurch HS|
|RGS High Wycombe 14-17 St Joseph’s College||11.00am
|Eltham College 3-26 RGS Newcastle|
|Hampton 40-0 QEGS Wakefield||11.40am
|Dulwich College 0-15 Kirkham Grammar|
|Brighton College 29-5 St Peter’s York||12.20pm
|Denstone College 17-8 John Fisher|
|Millfield 3-12 Wellington College||1.00pm
|Hurstpierpoint College 7-31 Whitchurch HS|
|RGS Newcastle 15-6 St Joseph’s College||1.40pm
|Eltham College 7-12 RGS High Wycombe|
|Dulwich College 0-41 Hampton||2.20pm
|Kirkham Grammar 12-3 QEGS Wakefield|
|Denstone College 15-0 St Peter’s York||3.00pm
|Brighton College 12-12 John Fisher|
|Millfield 17-10 Whitchurch HS||3.40pm
|Hurstpierpoint College 14-22 Wellington College|
|Eltham College 12-31 St Joseph’s College||4.20pm
|RGS High Wycombe 10-25 RGS Newcastle|