Epsom College took their chances well and survived a late flourish by Hampton to progress to the 4th Round of the National U15 Cup by the slenderest of margins.
This game always looked likely to be a close one, with both Hampton School U15s, semi-finalists in this competition last season, and Epsom College having only lost a couple of games and both sides including several Harlequins or London Irish Academy players. Weather conditions could hardly have been more unpleasant with temperatures in the low single figures and intermittent rain, but the availability of the Hampton 3G pitch ensured that conditions were firm under foot.
The home side kicked off and quickly conceded a penalty. Although the resulting kick failed to find touch, Epsom manged to regain possession and enjoyed a period of territorial advantage, winning another penalty on the Hampton 22. This time touch was found in the left corner and, with possession secured at the line-out, a maul was driven to the line but the defence were able to prevent the ball being grounded. Epsom made the most of the ensuing attacking scrum with No 8 and Quins DPP squad member Jude Clark picking up at the base and forcing his way over to opening the scoring. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
Hampton were quick to respond. After Epsom had been penalised at the restart, possession was secured at a line-out on the right and the ball switched to the backs where inside centre Ben Freer found a good line to cut through and score close to the posts, captain Ethan Knight converting.
Although Epsom won a penalty to set up an attacking line-out on the left, good pressure by the Hampton defence saw them win a scrum on half way. From the set piece Freer again showed his running skills, carving through and making 40 metres before being pulled down just short of the line by an excellent cover tackle. Hampton managed to retain possession close to the line, but a cross-kick to the right by fly half Max Leman was well fielded by the defence and Epsom were able to clear. After good Epsom hands on the left, play was switched to the right and inside centre Charley Redknapp outpaced the defence to score in the corner. Leman’s conversion attempt looked on target but hit the bar and stayed out.
After Epsom had again been penalised at the restart, Hampton were able to gain good field position and recycled possession on the 22 through several phases, but a handling error saw Epsom win back possession from a scrum and centre Joshua King ran out to half way. Although the ball went forward and possession regained by Hampton, their kick for position was well caught by full back and Quins U14 DPP member Kit Temperley, who showed tremendous pace to step his way through the defence and score in the left corner. The difficult conversion was missed.
Half-time: Hampton 7-15 Epsom College
Momentum continued to be with the Surrey school, as Temperley again showed his running skills to run back a speculative kick, before offloading to Redknapp who took a good line to take his second try in the left corner. Again, the conversion attempt was a difficult one from the touchline and fell short.
Hampton looked to get the ball to their dangerous centre pairing in search of the quick score needed to get back in the game. After Freer had run back a clearance kick the ball was moved through the hands to the right, and Knight cut through to score close to the posts and added the extras himself to get the deficit back to within a single score.
The momentum was now with the home side as they pressed for the potentially decisive score, and, after Epsom had been penalised, Hampton set up an attacking line-out in the right corner. With possession won, play was switched to the backs but Freer was shepherded into touch by the defence. Hampton continued to press, but solid defence forced them to put in a grubber to break the deadlock and that we fielded for a 22 drop-out. There was no respite for the defence as the drop-out went straight into touch, giving Hampton possession back from the scrum, and pressure inside the 22 continued.
In the gathering gloom and with time running out further Hampton attacks mounted. A clearance kick was run back by left wing Ollie Verney White and an attacking line-out won in the right corner. From the ensuing first phase possession the ball was moved through the hands to midfield and a grubber kicked towards the left corner which was gathered by Freer for his second try of the game, but the defence did well to keep him out wide, making the conversion required for the lead a difficult one. The kick was well struck but pulled just to the left of the posts. There just time for the restart but the kick was knocked on and referee Sean Thomson blew for full time.
This was a game of fluctuating fortunes, offering a good example of the excitement that U15 Cup games can offer. The even scoreline reflected the balance of play. Hampton deserve credit for the way that they raised their game in the final quarter when they were dominant. Epsom took their opportunities well and defended well when under pressure: they now face another away fixture in the next round at Harrow, against whom they suffered a narrow defeat in the block fixture earlier in the term.
Full-time: Hampton U15 19-20 Epsom College U15
Hampton U15: Ben Settle, Thomas Ketel, , atthew Hibbert, Nathan Newell, Alfie Simonds-Gooding, Sam Davidson, Tomasz Findlater, Thomas Simm, William Lindqvist, Max Leman, Ollie Verny White, Ben Freer, Ethan Knight (Capt), Samuel Michael, Fraser Dunlop
Replacements: Ben Wix, Theo Wedge, Alexander Lloyd, Jack Grivvell, Leo Garcia, Arthur Hopley, Isaac Mann
Epsom College U15: George Morley, Jamie Yorke, Oliver Hughes, Taarik Alikhan, Henry Hodgson, Max McKinlay (Capt), Rhys Day, Jude Clark, Jamie Taylor, Leo Hales, Jamie Grubb, Charley Redknapp, Joshua King, Will Springett. Kit Temperley
Replacements: Joel O’Donnell, Leo Hagdrup, Fraser Law, Oliver Carr-White, Luca Schmid, Henry Lyes, William Hartopp