After the drama of the first Cup semi-final, one wondered if that level of intensity could again be generated. One need not have worried: Whitgift and Hampton are sides that know each other well, with both schools having players in the Harlequins Academy.
The Surrey School had managed a 24-0 win back in September, but that would count for nothing in a Cup semi-final in which the power of the Whitgift forward pack was pitched against the running skills of Hampton, orchestrated by their outstanding captain and fly half Jamie Benson.
After Hampton had kicked off, Whitgift were awarded a penalty on their 22, from which they were able to clear and set up the first of many driving mauls. This one was well defended and Hampton used the ensuing scrum to attack down the right but the ball went forward. Although Whitgift won the scrum and kicked clear, they were penalised and Referee Mr Rowlands went to his pocket to reduce them to 14 men. Hampton quickly made good use of the man advantage and from an attacking line-out in the left corner the ball was moved swiftly through the hands to inside centre Tim Lamming who cut through to score close to the posts, Benson converting with his left foot.
With Whitgift conceding another penalty straight from the restart, Hampton were again on the front foot. A well-judged box kick by scrum half Luke Greenhall into the right corner forced the defence to concede a line-out, but the Hampton maul was unable to make ground and Whitgift forced a scrum. Now restored to full strength, Whitgift finally gained some territory. After hooker Piero Noah had made some hard yards, a penalty was won and centre Connor Slevin found touch on the left. Left wing Fola Adedeji and second row Malachi Opara took play up to the Hampton 22 with some muscular driving but the defence did well to force a turnover.
The Whitgift forward pack were now gradually starting to get a grip on the game. After another driving maul Hampton were penalised, and Slevin set up an attacking line-out on the right. The inevitable driving maul was followed by pick-and-go from the Whitgift forwards into the 22, but they were penalised. Although pressure was briefly relieved by an excellent carry by Hampton No 8 Thomas Tomlin, Whitgift were again threatening, with Adedeji sprinting clear down the left touchline, but he was stopped by a superb try saving tackle by full back Dylan Straker-Grimes.
Although good line speed by the Hampton defence stopped the Whitgift forwards after more hard yards had been made by Noah, they were penalised on their 22 and Slevin declined a fairly straightforward kick at goal, choosing to put the ball in the corner as half time approached. After some initial ground had been made from the maul, successive charges at the line from close range were successfully resisted by the Hampton defence, but eventually the pressure told and flanker Omari Malcolm forced his way over for the try, Slevin converting.
Half-time: Whitgift School 7-7 Hampton School
The second half opened with the Whitgift maul again deployed to effect, gaining a good 30m, but the ball was knocked on when released to the backs and Benson countered with a classy show and go and then a superbly judged grubber that Adedeji was forced to take into touch . With line-out won, Hampton moved the ball through the hands in successive phases, first to the left and then back to the right: finally Tomlin forced his way over in the right corner but was prevented from grounding the ball. From the 5m scrum outside centre Jesper Hartikainen found a good line but was stopped in his tracks by an excellent tackle and good work over the ball by the defence forced a penalty. The respite for Whitgift was brief, as Hampton again moved the ball through the hands on the left and forced the defence to concede a penalty on the 22. This time Benson chose to take the points, making no mistake with a right footed kick.
Although Hampton were soon back in the Whitgift half, they were adjudged to have taken a Whitgift maul down illegally and it was their turn to be shown yellow by Mr Rowlands. Although the inevitable maul from the ensuing line-out was stopped, a strong carry by Noah took play deep into the Hampton half, where the defence was forced to concede another penalty. After Slevin had put the ball into the left corner, successive drives by the forwards and then by Slevin were stopped inches short of the line by excellent defence, but eventually another penalty was conceded and kicked to the corner. Although Hampton were now back at full strength the maul proved unstoppable this time, with Noah the ball carrier and he duly touched down on the left, Slevin converting.
With four minutes still on the clock there was still time for Hampton to reply, but the Whitgift forwards were now rampant, winning another penalty from which first a maul and then pick-and-go took play into the Hampton 22. Taking his cue from the announcement that he had been awarded Man of the Match, Noah made more yards on the right. The powerful Opara then took play close to the line and the ball came back to Noah who claimed his second try under the posts, as time expired, with Slevin converting.
This game was indeed a contrast in styles, but there is no doubt that Whitgift had a game plan and stuck to it: they did what they needed to do on the day, but they also clearly have plenty of talent in the backs. The final against Manchester GS will be a fascinating contest.
Full Time: Whitgift 21-10 Hampton
Whitgift School: Lucas Bibb, Piero Noah, Pierre-Loic Pennaneac’h, Malachi Opara, Jack Sharpe, Omari Malcolm, Reis Norman (Vice-Capt), Angus Sheahan, Jake Murray, Eoin Finn (Vice-Capt), Fola Adedeji, Edward Volley, Connor Slevin (Capt), Theo Saitch, Gon Declercq
Replacements: Nathanael Adegoke, Anthony Vazques-Brown, Seb Driscoll, Edward Matthews, Ben Clark, Freddie Greene, Jack Hawkins
Hampton School: Matthieu Le Moign, Rupert Reddish, David Ellis, Joe Watton, Jack Slaney, Alex Taylor, Toby Robinson, Thomas Tomlin, Luke Greenall, Jamie Benson (Capt), Jack Wells, Tim Lamming, Jesper Hartikainen, Charlie Masters, Dylan Straker-Grimes
Replacements: Iestyn Humphrey, Lucca Froud, Joel Luckman, Joe Sykes, Alex McMillan, Nairn Herries, Will McLoughlin