Wellington College will return to Twickenham for the U15 Schools Cup final after getting past Whitgift in the semi final, and will be looking to regain the Cup they lifted in 2017.
It was oh so close though. Cruelly close, ending in a 15-15 draw with Wellington College progressing by virtue of having scored more ties, three to Whitgift’s two. Perhaps we should have expected nothing less, these two are the two most recent champions after all.
Sport, so joyous for the victors, but for the defeated it can be oh so cruel, and this was about as cruel as it can get. Defeat can stick like a lump in the throat at the best of times, but when it comes as a result of a draw, in a game at a professional stadium, in a semi final, as an Under 15, you would not wish that one anyone.
Wellington College will not care though, and rightly so, they managed the second half superbly, and skipper Monty Franks had the presence of mind in the closing seconds, while heads all around both on the pitch and in the stands were lost, to quickly talk to the referee and double check what would happen in the event of a draw. His side had a lineout on the Whitgift five metre line at the time, it turned out they would not need it to work.
Franks was superb all day, as was his headbanded partner, Murdoch Lock, playing like a back row, fly half, centre, and full back combined, and his side came flying out of the traps. They scored after just three minutes when openside Will Ayton broke off the side of a maul for a try.
Murdoch took the conversion, echoing former Wellington College skipper Will Wilson, though it slipped just wide. His side had a 5-0 lead though, but it was soon to be cut to just two when Whitgift number 8 Sed Driscoll proved that forwards on both sides had a multiple skillset, slotting a penalty for 5-3.
Driscoll added to his tally ten minutes alter, crashing over with style on the 19th minute, a really smart finish, before adding the conversion to put his side 10-5 up.
They were good for it at the time, too, but Wellington came back, they always felt like they might such was their control in possession. Patiently they went through the phases before second row Monty Franks went crashing over.
Then came what would turn out to be the crucial play of the game, right on the stroke of half time when Ayton went over his second, this time in the right hand corner to give his side back the lead, 15-10 at half time.
Playing into the wind made having any sort of a lead an achievement, it was that strong, and ultimately that was what made the difference for Wellington College. Scoring early on in a spell of dominating possession they had got their noses in front, and then having done so again later in the half they had given Whitgift an uphill task.
Credit to Whitgift though, they rose to that challenge, scoring through hooker Hayden Rees just five minutes after the restart to level the game at 15-15. It was exactly what they needed to do and they did it.
From there though they just could not quite get on the scoreboard, three or four times they got to the Wellington College 22 before either they gave away a penalty or the magnificent Wellington College back three trio forced the turnover.
When Wellington then did come back into control of the game there was little Whtigift could do upon turning them over before of the territorial advantage and the wind, escape could rarely be further than their own ten metre line.
With the game moving towards the close Wellington started to camp deep in Whitgift territory, having a try disallowed just moments before the final whistle. That closing performance and that fact that they found a way to score those three tries into the hand probably left neutrals feeling that the right team had progressed, but also empathising hugely with the heartbreak that it must have been for Whitgift.
In the end, after a game and a finish like that, all that can be said really is that both sides were not just a credit to their schools, but were a credit to themselves, both as teams and as individuals. Now Wellington College will face another challenge, Northampton School for Boys, at Twickenham. On this showing, they certainly will not lack for character.
Full Time: Wellington College 15-15 Whitgift
15 Dan Watson, 14 Richie Rudd-Fathers, 13 Mason Archer, 12 Joe Lewis, 11 Louis Hughes, 10 Samm Daniel, 9 James Lloyd, 1 Gus Sutherland, 2 Liam Thurlow, 3 Johannes Dreischmeier, 4 Monty Franks, 5 Connor O’Byrne, 6 Murdoch Lock, 7 Will Ayton, 8 Henry Starmer-Smith.
Replacements: 16 Oli Percival, 17 Ollie Knight, 18 Oli Van Druler, 19 Arthur Johnson, 20 David Petschek, 21 Oz Henry, 22 Finn Tawse.
15 Matheus Nudelman, 14 Daniel Ikezue-Clifford, 13 Struan Fotheringham, 12 Barney Kember, 11 Liam Cobley, 10 Jamie Flatley (vc), 9 Han Deckercq, 1 Toby Leake, 2 Haydn Rees, Lewis Chin-You, 4 Charlie Ahston, 5 Max Hubrich, 6 Mikey Crump, 7 Edward Miller, 8 Sed Driscoll (c).
Replacements: 16 Isaac Kemp, 17 Luca Petrenko, 18 Sury Rana, 19 Sam Bourke, 20 Sebastian Pilkington, 21 Sean Kerr, 22 Alex Peirson.