Leicester Tigers made it back to back U18 Academy League triumphs as they claimed the title at Allianz Park with a 34-31 victory over Gloucester.
It was a repeat of last year’s final, which Leicester won 43-21, and while this year was close it looked at one point as though Leicester might run away with it.
The champions led 24-0 at half time thanks to an early try from Wales’ Sam Costelow, followed by a brace from Denstone College’s Joe Browning, with Costelow adding nine points with boot.
After the break Costelow added another three points to stretch out to a 27-0 lead, however then Gloucester embarked on the sort of comeback that embodied the spirit they have shown all season.
First they scored a wonderful flowing try through scrum half Stephen Varney before Hartpury College’s Louis Rees-Zammit flashed through for a second shortly after.
Leicester scored what proved to be a crucial try though to stem that tide as Brooksby Melton College’s Archie Vanes crossed, with Costelow converting to get up to their 34 points.
Gloucester’s resistance continued though and they scored first through their own hooker, Ethan Hunt, before Rees-Zammit scored his second of the evening.
It had been a wonderful comeback, closing the gap to 34-31, but there was still more drama to come as Gloucester fly half George Barton lined up a long penalty to bring the game level. The ball sailed high and true but agonizingly for Gloucester, it stuck the post and bounced away harmlessly.
It was brutal for Gloucester, back to back finals defeats, but for Leicester it was a well earned back-to-back title. The Midlands youngsters have been outstanding for two years, without losing a single game.
Both sides are producing unbelievable quality, both in play and players, reflected in these back to back finals against each other and in the fact that they have a combined fifteen players in the England U18 squad, with a player each in the Wales set up too.
For Leicester though, that edge remains, back to back titles at Allianz Park, a stunning achievement.
Full Time: Leicester Tigers 34-31 Gloucester
There were two other games at U18 Academy League Finals Day at Allianz Park on Sunday, the third place play off and the fifth place play off.
The third place game was between Bath and Wasps and produced a simply stunning game of rugby in which 100 points were shared and the two were separated by just four, with Bath coming out on top, 52-48.
It featured a stunning comeback from Bath, who were 43-24 down at half time after Wasps had raced away thanks to tries from James Tunney, Ricky Ma’asi, and Tom Bacon, as well as braces from Mario Pichardie, and the rising star of U18 rugby, Bloxham’s Alfie Barbeary. Bath meanwhile scored through Orlando Bailey, Bradley Law, an interception from Max Ojomoh, and the first of a brace from full back George Worboys.
John Stewart scored early on for Bath before Worboys’ second, and by then the comeback was on, Nat Arnold crossing to put Bath in front for the first time in the game. Bath then scored again through Gabriel Hamer-Webb, a try that effectively ended the game, though James Tunney was able to score his second of the game to leave the final score at 52-48 to Bath, handing them third place.
Meanwhile in the 5th place play off Harlequins sealed that position with a win over Sale Sharks for the second year in succession. Last year they won 34-29 but this year they South West Londoners were even better this year, securing a 31-15 victory.
Hayden Hyde, Sam Riley, and Dylan Thomas all scored for Harlequins, with the remaining sixteen points coming from the boot. In return Sale Sharks scored tries through Tom Roebuck and Josh Hadland, adding a further five points from the tee.
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U18 Academy League Finals Day Fixtures (all at Allianz Park, Sunday 17th February)
Final: Leicester Tigers 34-31 Gloucester
3rd Place: Wasps 48-52 Bath
5th Place: Sale Sharks 15-31 Harlequins
O Freddie Steward (Norwich), N Leo Gilliland (Brooksby Melton College), M Ronnie Du Randt (Denstone College), L Sam Costelow (Oakham), K Joe Browning (Denstone College), J Harry Glynn (Oakham), I Jack Van Poortvliet (Oakham), A James Whitcombe (Woodhouse Grove), B Archie Vanes (Brooksby Melton College), C Rob Hardwick (Rugby), D George Martin (Brooksby Melton College), E Tom Manz (Denstone College), F Emeka Ilione (Rugby), H Samuel Eveleigh (Leicester GS, captain), G Ollie Ashworth (Langley).
Replacements: P Shaun Allsopp (Stamford), Q Alex Maxwell (Brooksby Melton College), R Jack Rowntree (Leicester GS), S Will Backhouse (Brooksby Melton College), T Kit Smith (Oakham), U Jonny Law (Rugby), V Matt Potts (Leicester GS), W Ollie Smith (Denstone College).
15 Brooke Turner, 14 Louis Hillman-Cooper, 13 Isaac Marsh, 12 Tommy Mathews, 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 George Barton, 9 Stephen Varney, 1 Harry Fry, 2 Ethan Hunt, 3 Jenson Boughton, 4 Archie Benson, 5 Joe Howard (captain), 6 Jack Clement, 7 Josh Gray, 8 Harry Taylor.
Replacements: 16 Leyton Chambers, 17 Marcus Reading, 18 Harry Daynes, 19 Freddie Thomas, 20 Seb Blake, 21 Matty Jones, 22 Oli Parmar, 23 Max Fletcher.
15 Tom Bacon, 14 Simone Panella, 13 Toby Baldwin, 12 Ricky Ma’asi, 11 Jude Williams, 10 Charlie Atkinson, 9 Henry Mortimer, 1 Zac Nearchou, 2 Alfie Barbeary, 3 Jordan Cordice, 4 Anjo Ademuwagun, 5 Mario Pichardie, 6 Alfred Mawdsley, 7 Dan Eckersley, 8 James Tunney (captain).
Replacements: 16 Alex Pleasants, 17 James Coombs, 18 Alex Sabin, 19 Nik Jakobsen, 20 Greg Fisilau, 21 Ollie Monye, 22 Evan Mitchell, 23 Tane Dunn.
15 George Worboys, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 13 Ruben Moxham, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Felix Connolly, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Will Cook, 1 Jamie Guest, 2 Bradley Law, 3 Archie Griffin, 4 Ewan Richards (captain), 5 Ethan Staddon, 6 Will Hendy, 7 Xavier Hastings, 8 Nahum Merigan.
Replacements: 16 John Stewart, 17 Archie Alexander, 18 Jack Bertinet, 19 Frankie Read, 20 Ed Wallrock, 21 Ayden Chenoweth, 22 Tom Carr-Smith, 23 Nat Arnold.
15 Cal Grieve, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Dan Kelly, 12 Elliot Gourlay, 11 Oli Melville, 10 Tom Curtis, 9 Raffi Quirke, 1 Harry Harding, 2 Ethan Caine, 3 James Harper, 4 Ollie Leatherbarrow, 5 Ewan Murphy, 6 Joe Johnson, 7 John Bailey, 8 Josh Hadland.
Replacements: 16 Ben Patchett, 17 Tom Clarke, 18 Corey Bowker, 19 Ciaran Sutcliffe, 20 Sam Higginson, 21 Will Davies, 22 Jacob Ainscough, 23 Cam Melville, 24 Nye Thomas.
15 Louis Lynagh (Hampton), 14 Oscar Beard (Cranleigh), 13 Hayden Hyde (Cranleigh), 12 Lennox Anyanwu (Christ’s Hospital), 11 Tom Allen (Epsom College), 10 Luc Smith (Brighton College), 9 Mikel Davies (Dulwich College), 1 Jonathan Salomon (Caterham), 2 Sam Riley (St George’s College, Weybridge, captain), 3 Fin Baxter (Wellington College), 4 Elliott Powell (Brighton College), 5 Enzo Croy (Dulwich College), 6 Harry Dugmore (Whitgift), 7 Jack Reid (Wellington College), 8 Will Trenholm (Cranleigh).
Replacements:16 Dylan Thomas (Hurstpierpoint College), 17 Theo Bevaqua (Eastbourne College), 18 Aristot Salomon (Whitgift), 19 Jack Ryder (Regis), 20 Ted Johnson (Wellington College), 21 Jake Williams (Harrodian), 22 Jack Potter (St John’s, Leatherhead), 23 James Bourton (Hurstpierpoint College).
U18 Academy League Round 7 Results:
Northampton Saints 5-17 Yorkshire Carnegie
Wasps 62-33 Newcastle Falcons
Worcester Warriors 7-43 Sale Sharks
Bath 19-7 London Irish
Bristol Bears 19-52 Saracens
Exeter Chiefs 21-41 Gloucester