A hat-trick of U18 Schools Cup titles remains a possibility for Warwick as the 2017 and 2018 champions beat a strong Woodhouse Grove side 36-24 at Allianz Park in the semi final.
Inside centre Alex Green had the sort of semi final performance that will be remembered for years to come, outstanding in both defence and attack as he scored a brilliant hat-trick to help seal the victory, showing utterly un-defendable pace at times.
Under the guidance of Tom Pierce, this Warwick outfit is now on the brink of history, only Dulwich College in the modern era have won three in a row, and even under the old import rules only Colston’s managed multiple titles in succession. Should Warwick go on to complete the job it would be a truly sensational achievement, even just being there once more is absolutely outstanding.
Woodhouse Grove should not go without mention though, they were excellent at times and they came absolutely flying out of the blocks scoring a try through left wing Eddie Wainibuli before most in the stands had even taken their seats, Luke Punton’s conversion giving them a 7-0 lead in less than two minutes. It was the perfect start from a side that have been tearing up trees all season.
If anyone had though that might quieten the huge Warwick crowd then they obviously have not been to one of these semi finals in recent years. Warwick’s fans are always loud, without fail. If anything the early score spurred them on.
More important than the crowd being used to these occasions though is that the Warwick players are too, and they showed all of that experience to take control of the ball, calm the game down, and then five minutes later score a try of their own through openside Oscar Roberts.
That brought them within two points and from there they took control of possession. There was a sense though that Woodhouse Grove didn’t mind defending too much, they are a strong outfit in defence with a robust kicking game when they turn the ball over, but on the counter Warwick were proving hard to stop.
Half an hour in that long range attacking bore fruit for Warwick as Roberts came absolutely flying through the line from deep inside his own territory, drawing the full back on halfway before releasing the pacey Green to race away for the first of his three tries.
Henry Mortimer converted to give Warwick a 12-7 lead, and later added a penalty to extend it out to 15-7. However on the stroke of half time Woodhouse Grove hit back with a try straight out of that triple title winning Dulwich College side’s playbook.
Setting up a maul just inside the Warwick 22, Woodhouse Grove surged forward towards the tryline before England loosehead James Whitcombe dropped over the line for the try, sending the sides in with Warwick ahead by three at 15-12.
That gave them the momentum and they held onto it across the break, again scoring fast after the start of the half and once again through the excellent Wainibuli on the left wing, who exchanged passes with number 8 Freddy Clark before scuttling over on the left hand touchline.
As in the first half though, Warwick stayed calm and waited patiently, knowing that time was on their side. In the end all they need was five minutes before Green once again absolute sheared through the defence for his second to regain the lead, 22-17 with Mortimer’s conversion.
It sparked a twelve minute period that would really define the game as Warwick scored twice more, first a short range effort from Alex Sabin before Green completed his hat-trick a few minutes later, racing away from half way from a set piece move. Once more showing ridiculous pace.
With Mortimer converting all three, a 17-15 deficit had quickly become a 36-17 lead. These are the sort of spells that all sides of this calibre seen to produce, 10-15 minute periods that just kill the game in a stroke. It was highly impressive stuff.
All credit to Woodhouse Grove though, they were not about to simply roll over. They are just too good for that. They came back, still believing, and scored a well worked try through openside Frank Malir, Luke Punton converting for 36-24.
It was not enough though, there simply was not enough time and this Warwick side were just too experienced in these situations. Allianz Park and Twickenham hold no fear or extra pressure to them anymore, it seems, they have been there and seen it all before.
It is a simple sentence but perhaps it sums up this remarkable Warwick team and story as well as any other. They simply have been there and done it all before, they know what it takes, they know what to do, and they keep their cool. Going behind as they did after just a minute, and again in the second half, would have triggered collapse in a lot of sides, we have seen that happen many many times.
This Warwick group never gave even a hint that it might unsettle them, and perhaps that is the biggest compliment of all.
Full Time: Woodhouse Grove 24-36 Warwick
15 Kobe O’Brien, 14 Matthew Smith, 13 Luke Fairbank, 12 Luke Punton, 11 Eddie Wainibuli, 10 Matthew Sheard, 9 Harley Robertshaw, 1 James Whitcombe (c), 2 Jack Popely, 3 Will Robinson, 4 Thomas Thorpe, 5 Edward King, 6 Harry Beckwith, 7 Frank Malir, 8 Freddy Clark.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Aliev, 17 Poasa Suli, 18 Mikelis Jurevics, 19 Harry Green, 20 Matthew Tanner, 21 Will Metcalfe, 22 Joe Pearson.
15 Henry Miles, 14 Xander Eddy, 13 Harry Spencer, 12 Alex Green, 11 Ethan Evan-Cook, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Henry Mortimer, 1 Jozef Jones, 2 Max Rawson, 3 Alex Sabin, 4 Will Pugh, 5 Dan May, 6 Will Kelley, 7 Oscar Roberts, 8 Roger Jackson.
Replacements: Matthew Rigby, 17 Kai Nwangwa, 18 Adam Lane, 19 Luke Robinson, 20 Tom Boorman, 21 Jamie Mackinley, 22 Jack Aston.