The snow and ice brought by “The Beast from the East” had at last receded sufficiently to allow the U15 Semi-Finals to go ahead, after the disappointment of the previous day’s postponement of the U18 fixtures. A nail biting first semi final unfolded, The Manchester Grammar School staging an extraordinary comeback to edge Warwick School 22-21.
Warwick School have a record in recent years in this competition that is second to none, and this year’s side managed to continue that proud tradition by reaching the semi-finals, but they will have known that they faced strong opposition in the shape of an unbeaten Manchester GS that had put out a much fancied Sedbergh team in the quarter finals. Manchester GS won a penalty shortly after the kick-off and were pressing on the Warwick 22, but it was the Midlands School that opened the scoring, full back William Mobberley intercepting and going the length of the pitch to score under the posts, scrum half Elliot Tanner adding the conversion.
Manchester GS soon reduced the deficit. Good hands on the left had taken play deep into the left corner but the attack was thwarted by an accidental offside decision. The respite was short however as Warwick were penalised on their 22 and fly half Ben Simpson was successful from the tee. The Northern side continued to press, winning successive penalties, from the second of which, after full back Haeden Johnson had given an early glimpse of his running skills with a break on the left, a maul was set up in the left corner, but was well defended by Warwick who were able to clear.
Having survived a period of pressure, Warwick then extended their lead. After the ball had been moved through hands to the right, fly half Thomas Patrick showed excellent pace to break into the 22 and force a defensive line-out in the corner. From that, scrum half Tom Archer’s attempted clearance kick was charged down by second row Maximillian Stanton who was quick to gather the loose ball and touch down for the second try. Tanner’s excellent kick from the touchline added the afters.
The Midlands side continued to press with open side flanker Kai Nwangwa breaking though the defence on the right, but the ensuing grubber kick to the in goal area was touched down by the defence for a 22. Despite conceding another penalty at the breakdown, Warwick continued to enjoy territorial advantage as half time approached. After another break on the right, play was switched to the left corner and No 8 Jack Waterworth almost forced his way over. Although pressure was briefly relieved, another run out of defence by Mobberley and a well-judged kick to the corner forced a try saving kick into touch by Johnson, displaying the footballing skills that have attracted the attention of Oldham Athletic. From the ensuing line-out Patrick came within inches of adding a third try but was held up.
Half-time: The Manchester Grammar School 3-14 Warwick School
Warwick continued their dominance of territory and possession as the second half began. After good progress on the right, with wing Max Plumb evading defenders, the ball was moved through the hands to the left where Nwangwa again showed outstanding pace to break through and score. With Simpson adding the conversion, the game seemed decided, but Manchester GS had not forgotten the words posted above the exit from their dressing room: “Never give in”. Helped by two further penalties conceded by Warwick, an attacking line-out was set up in the left corner. With possession secured, the pick and go tactic took the forwards to within a couple of metres on the line in midfield and the defence were forced to concede yet another penalty. That was taken quickly by Simpson and although he was stopped short of the line, forward pressure was maintained and second row Noah Ellis forced his way over in the corner.
With a try finally secured Manchester GS were now competing more effectively in midfield and a shift in momentum began to become apparent. The outstanding Johnson again showed his pace, breaking through on the left and again making himself available after good recycling by the forwards. Although Johnson was forced into touch in the corner, a knock-on from the ensuing line-out gave Manchester GS an attacking scrum and the first phase possession saw Johnson cut through to score by the posts, Simpson converting: game on! After another run by Johnson and pressure by the forward pack Warwick were again penalised and this time yellow was shown: momentum was now totally with the Northern side. After an attacking scrum yet another penalty was won and taken quickly. The pick and go tactic took play close to the line and despite desperate defence scrum half Tom Archer dived over close to the posts to score. The conversion was a simple one, but the pressure immense: Simpson kept his head and duly added the extras to give his side a one point lead.
There were only seconds left for Warwick to respond but they were unable to do so, conceding one more penalty from the restart. Thus was completed one of the more remarkable comebacks in the final stages of this competition. Warwick had perhaps enjoyed an element of good fortune with two of their scores and some might feel that they had been a little early in going to their bench. At the end of the day, the penalty count and the eventual yellow card were crucial factors, but Manchester GS kept their heads admirably and continued to play to a solid structure that eventually produced the key scores. Their No 8 Sebastian Murphy was rightly given the Man of the Match award.
Full Time: Manchester Grammar 22-21 Warwick
The Manchester Grammar School: Fraser Hartley, Alex Campbell, Sam Rushton, Noah Ellis, Joseph Little, George Arnold, Jack Whiteley, Sebastian Murphy (Vice-Capt.), Tom Archer, Ben Simpson (Capt.), Jordan Oluwadere, Archie Jones, Alfie Meir, William Torevell, Haeden Johnson
Replacements: Mohammed Qasim, Oliver Hoggart, Ben Montague, Ollie Johnson, Nicholas Grimshaw, Isaac Ogunyemi, Will Richardson
Warwick School: Freddie Keays, Archie McCusker, Josh Simango, Sebastian Coughlin, Maximilian Stanton, Adam Lane, Kai Nwangwa, Jack Waterworth, Elliot Tanner, Thomas Patrick, Harvey Brown, Alfie Whiteley, James Treasure, Max Plumb, William Mobberley
Replacements: Oli Stone, Samuel Taverner, Alesandro Fakatou, William Richards, Marcus Acquari, James MacKenzie, William Callan