London Irish U18 claimed the U18 Academy Competition title with a stunning 35-11 victory over Gloucester U18 in the final at Allianz Park.
The young side were simply outstanding, and produced what was by far and away the most impressive performance of the day, their status as title winners was more than deserved.
Outstanding individual performances from the likes of Wellington College duo Matt Williams and Tom Parton, as well as stunning display from right wing Joe Cokanasiga, were impressive, but it was the collective here that truly impressed. London Irish worked as a unit, showing excellent basic skills, and a patience that had rarely been seen in the other two game at Allianz Park on finals day.
At half time things were relatively on a par, with Irish leading 14-6 after a reasonably cagey opening. Dan Openshaw had opened the scoring with a penalty for Gloucester after eight minutes, but London Irish quickly hit back with a strong finish from hooker Matt Kouris, who ran a hard line from close range to go crashing over, giving Parton a simple conversion.
Openshaw soon narrowed the gap with his second penalty, before the first bit of London Irish magic of the game cut Gloucester to ribbons. It was, perhaps inevitably, the outstanding Matt Williams, who produced it. Bursting through the line he came one on one with the full back, with his scrum half and schoolmate, Rory Brand, on his shoulder.
Rather than use him though, Williams threw the dummy and waltzed under the posts. That does it no justice though, it was a dummy of the highest calibre. Brand looked like he thought he had it, the defence certainly did, and by the time everyone knew what was happening, Parton was lining up the conversion to confirm the 14-6 London Irish half time lead.
Unfortunately at the break Gloucester lost their scrum half, Harry Randall, to a nasty looking injury. Whether that impacted their final points tally or not is hard to say, but certainly losing a player of his calibre is a tough pill to have to swallow.
What was a decent half time lead for London Irish was to become a commanding one just two minutes after the restart as the ball was hacked through towards the Gloucester line. Williams was leading the footrace but a tug of the shirt as he dived for the ball stopped him from scoring what seemed a certain try, the referee rightly went underneath the posts after some consultation with his touch judge, awarding London Irish the penalty try and sending Gloucester’s Callum Allen to the bin.
At 21-6, the next score was crucial. If Gloucester could get it, they might just have a chance, another try for London Irish though, and it would be a long road back for the Cherry and Whites.
They were handed a lifeline when Parton missed a penalty, but with London Irish keeping the Northern Division champions under extreme pressure, they could not hold out any longer, with half an hour played in the second half, London Irish crossed for their fourth of the game as substitute Harry Norton went crashing over from close range. With Parton now off with a niggle, Wil Atfield landed the extras to give his side an unassailable 28-6 lead with time now running low for Gloucester.
There was still time for the best try of the game though. It was a real coast-to-coast effort as under pressure in his own 22, Atfield broke free and raced away to the halfway line. Offloading to Hampton’s Roman Malin-Hiscock (on for Williams, what a luxurious substitution to be able to make), Irish then swamped the Gloucester end, running through two quick phases of possession before releasing winger Ollie Hassle-Collins to run the ball home. It was truly outstanding rugby, from a side clearly full to the brim with confidence.
It was a fitting culmination to a wonderful performance, but 35-6 felt harsh on Gloucester, who had actually turned up and played some decent rugby, certainly they looked every inch a side that deserved their place in the final, they had just come across a London Irish side who were on fire.
It was fitting, then, that with the final play of the game they crossed the whitewash through the outstanding Mason Tonks, who was a thorn in London Irish’s side all day.
It narrowed the score to a final score of 35-11 to London Irish, but it gave Gloucester a little bit more of a sense of pride at having still played right through to that point and secured the try.
London Irish deserve all the praise that will come their way though. They were simply outstanding, and have some players in their ranks who will go on to make waves in the senior game, without a doubt.
Full Time: Gloucester U18 11-35 London Irish U18
You can see a handful of photos from the game on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby
15 Dan Openshaw, 14 Rhys Tudor, 13 Mason Tonks, 12 Tom Seabrook, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Carwyn Penny, 9 Harry Randall, 1 Mason Emery, 2 Henry Walker, 3 Alex Seville, 4 Callum Allen, 5 Alex Craig, 6 Ceri Silvester, 7 Joe Mullis (c), 8 Morgan Morris.
Replacements: 16 Harry Bowen, 17 Will Haly, 18 Harrison Fowke, 19 Ed Bennion, 20 Aaron Hinkley, 21 Seb Mummery, 22 Charlie Chapman, 23 Robbie Forbes.
15 Will Attfield; 14 Joe Cokanasiga; 13 Matt Williams; 12 Lewis Sampson; 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins; 10 Tom Parton; 9 Rory Brand; 1 Jarod Leat; 2 Matt Kouris (Captain); 3 Austin Hay; 4 Harry Butler; 5 Josh Basham; 6 Jack Cooke; 7 Jack Ingall; 8 Isaac Curtis-Harris.
Replacements: 16 Freddie Boyce; 17 Callum Torpey; 18 Daniel Winning; 19 Angus Southon; 20 Harry Norton 21 Dan Grant-Adamson; 22 Sam Evans; 23 Roman Malin-Hiscock.