Bloxham School secured the U18 Schools Plate with a 28-21 victory over Sherborne in what was one of the most outstanding school finals you will witness.
All too often finals end up falling flat, the pressure or a mismatch of ability leaving them a damp squib, however this was nothing of the sort, this was the sort of final that everyone hopes for.
Neither side deserved to lose, truly, both sides were exceptional. On both teams the collective shone and individuals within them performed spectacularly. Bloxham were outstanding, so were Sherborne. It was, without question, the best of the finals since the RFU introduced this multiple layered Schools Cup competition.
Both sides should reflect on this with nothing short of absolute pride. For Bloxham it will be pride mixed with elation at their achievement and their victory, but Sherborne should be no less proud, they too were simply sensational.
In all there were seven tries, to be honest the were all brilliant in their own way too. In the end the game all hung on a mad period in the second half. Bloxham were 21-11 up and probably safer than any side had been through the game.
However two Sherborne tries in quick succession leveled things up at 21-21 only for Bloxham to hit back themselves for 28-21 with ten minutes to play. The entire of Worcester Warriors’ Sixways Stadium was open-mouthed by now at what was going on.
From there though came the period where Bloxham truly won the game. With less than five minutes to go the put in a try saving tackle to bundle Sherborne into touch with the try line beckoning. Then, with a maturity and calmness so far beyond the years, and certainly a calmness that none in the stands could possibly have shared, they played out the last couple of minutes of the game through a series of pick and goes deep in their own 22.
Any turnover, any ill-discipline, it would have handed Sherborne the chance to come back. But Bloxham trusted themselves, backed their skillsets, trusted each other, and saw out those final few minutes. Moments like that are so often overlooked, but they are the difference between winning and losing sometimes.
The big pre match news was that Alfie Barbeary, who came of the bench for England U20 at hooker on Friday, was starting at inside centre, where he has played his school rugby all year. A bulldozing presence, he was magnificent, taking the game to Sherborne right from the off and scoring a try that put Bloxham in the lead for the first time in the dying embers of the first half.
He was far from the only star though, fly half Toby Staveley-Parker had a stunning game for Bloxham, Scoring two tries and landing eight points with the boot.
The scoring all began with Sherborne though, a Fin French penalty 8 minutes in, and he shortly turned provider with a delightful reverse pass for fly half Tom Carr-Smith, another who had a stunning game, to go streaking away for a wonderful try and an 8-0 lead.
That man Staveley-Parker showed his class though to bring his side back into the game. A weapon like Barbeary is only as good as the way you use him and Staveley-Parker knows just how to use him. Seeing the defence close in on the England U20 man, the fly half threw the dummy to go racing in unopposed, converting his own try to get within a point.
Then Barbeary turned scorer, sitting at the tail of the maul and then absolutely blasting over the line with half time just seconds away. It send Bloxham 14-8 up heading into the break once Staveley-Parker had, inevitably, landed the conversion.
As in the first half though, Sherborne were first on the scoresheet again in the second half with another French penalty, but this time Bloxham responded immediately through that man Staveley-Parker again, bancing through for his second and converting for that 21-11 lead.
Sherborne could have buckled there, many would have, many have.. Not this lot though. Led by Hunter Strand they were outstanding, and he and Lorca McLouglin were getting through some serious work in the Sherobrne back row. That paid off eleven minutes into the second half when McLoughlin went blasted over from a maul to close things to 21-16.
The talk of the town had been the Sherborne backs though, andthey got the chance to show their class once again with a shade under twenty minutes remaining when some slick handling released left wing Jai Thompson to score a superb try.
Suddenly 21-11 was 21-21 and the pressure was back on Bloxham having shifted to Sherborne before. Like Sherborne before them though, Bloxham responded, and what a response. They scored an absolute beauty, albeit a little scrappily in the end.
Staveley-Parker released full back Henry Hopkins on his own ten metre line and he danced left, and then showed some stunning pace to go haring down the left hand touchline. He was hauled down a few metres short but managed to get an attempted offload away. It bounced and bobbled a bit but when scrum half Ben Staveley-Parker applied the, clearly genetically evolved, deft foot to it he was able to chase it down and score his side’s fourth of the afternoon, his brother adding the extras for 28-11.
From there it was al about defence and then controlled possession from Bloxham who must be delighted that this outstanding group of players have been rewarded with a trophy, it is no less than they deserve.
Sherborne will be gutted, how could they not be, but when the hours and days and weeks pass they will reflect with real pride in their part of what was a truly magnificent final.
For Bloxham, that great feeling starts now. They were outstanding, they are outstanding, and they will deserve every single piece of credit that comes their way over the coming days and weeks.
Two brilliant sides, and outstanding final, and 70 minutes of rugby that are exactly what school sport is support to be about. Passion, enjoyment, endeavor, and all shared with your mates.
Full Time: Sherborne 21-28 Bloxham
15 Ollie Noble, 14 Felix Connelly, 13 Sam Reynolds, 12 Charlie McCaig, 11 Jai Thompson, 10 Tom Carr-Smith, 9 Fin French (vc), 1 Nathanael Fagerson, 2 Alex Colville, 3 Joe Atkins, 4 Alistair Neish, 5 Wynn Thomas, 6 Hunter Strand (c), 7 Hal Little, 8 Lorcan McLoughlin.
Replacements: 16 Freddie Woolgar, 17 Yanis Hammick, 18 Archie Walwyn, 19 Hector Hamilton, 20 Will Perkins, 21 Max Harrison, 22 Jack Rodwell.
15 Henry Hopkins, 14 Ben Stapleton, 13 Alfie Barbeary, 12 James Boardman, 11 Johnny Graham, 10 Toby Staveley-Parker, 9 Ben Staveley-Parker, 1 Harri Barnden, 2 Harry Fellingham, 3 Freddie Symons, 4 Johnnie Hand, 5 Ollie Hart, 6 Jamie Marshall, 7 Dan Eckersley, 8 Harry Horrocks.
Replacements: 16 Harvey Jones, 17 Petr Kraus, 18 Ethan Fitzgibbon, 19 Henry Stainton, 20 Dan James, 21 Charlie Daniels (3), 22 Charlie Yates (13).