Wirral Grammar School secured their place in the U18 Schools Vase final at Twickenham on Wednesday 14th March after a tense semi final against Ripon Grammar School.
The men from the famous West Coast peninsula always held the lead over the Yorkshire side, but it was always a close game as they secured the 19-17 win at Saracens’ Allianz Park.
They were probably the favourites heading into the match, having beaten one of the tournament favourites, Reed’s, in their semi final, but they were made to work oh so hard for it.
Outside centre Tom Roebuck was perhaps the key difference between the sides. The exciting back scored nine of his side’s 19 points, including one stunning try, on his way to being named man of the match.
That score came after just three minutes as he collected a chip over the top just inside his own half before accelerating down the left wing. He cut a sharp line back infield, leaving the defenders for did as he finished off a spectacular try, before converting himself for a 7-0 lead.
Conceding so early can often be a killer blow for a side, but credit to Ripon, they dug deep and played their way back into things, despite the pressure of a semi final in a pro stadium.
A quarter of an hour in, that composure paid off as they built through the phases in Wirral territory. Fly half Joe Scatchard, an exciting runner, saw his chance and drifted behind the ruck from right to left, stopping a gap in the defence. He darted through, almost unopposed, bringing his side back to with in two points.
That score seemed to tighten the game up as both sides realised that they were in for a bit of a battle. Indeed that was to remain the only score until shortly before half time, despite Ripon Grammar going down to 14 for ten minutes.
As half time approached though, Wirral Grammar School pounced. Building through the phases and increasing the pressure, they edged ever nearer to the Ripon line until second row Sam Gregory barged over to give his side a 14-5 lead heading into half time, following Roebuck’s conversion.
Again though, Ripon bounced back. Within ten minutes of the restart they were over for their second try and once again it was the outside half, Scatchard, who showed outstanding pace and again his superb eye for a gap to scorch home virtually unopposed from halfway.
With the conversion again just wide though, Wirral still held a good lead at 14-10, but not enough to ease any tension in the ground. There was a palpable easing of that tension with fifteen minutes left to go though as Wirral scored their third of the game.
Much like their second, in came after phase upon phase of pressure, and this timeit was Gregory’s second row partner, Tom Lockwood, that burst through the defensive wall and over the line for a 19-10 lead.
It seemed to lift some of the tension around the ground, but that easing of the tension would be short-lived. With just five minutes left on the clock Ripon’s captain and openside, James Willis, took a short ball on the Wirral 22 and simply sliced through the heart of the Wirral defence. The gap seemed to just appear in front of him and invite him through, and the big man needed no second invitation.
With full back Oliver Williams landing the conversion, that made it a two point game at 19-17 to Wirral with just four minutes left.
For Wirral it must have seemed like the longest 4 minutes of their season as Ripon, buoyed by that late score, went searching for the win. The men in blue held firm though, seeing the game out for a fantastic win that sees them through to their first ever U18 Vase final, where they will face a Langley School side that looked simply outstanding in their 41-5 victory over Dauntsey’s later in the day.
Full Time: Ripon Grammar School 17-19 Wirral Grammar School
Ripon Grammar School
15 Oliver Williams, 14 Jake Robinson, 13 Luke Ratcliff, 12 Ric Castle-Ward, 11 Tom Mewes, 10 Joe Scatchard (vc), 9 Diprai Jimee, 1 Harvey Toomes, 2 Oliver Munro, 3 Harry Stratford, 4 George Stratford, 5 John Estensen, 6 Connor Eddleston, 7 James Willis (captain), 8 Edward Wainwright.
Replacements: 16 Oscar Butterill, 17 Bertie Black, 18 Ben Borchard, 19 Timi Oniwinde, 20 Lucien Wray, 21 Evan Rees, 22 Lorcan Gallagher.
Wirral Grammar School
15 Will Tyrer, 14 Tom Saunders, 13 Tom Roebuck, 12 Louis Botes, 11 Jack Nelson, 10 Jacob Ainscough, 9 George Manger, 1 Dan Carrol, 2 Ben Thomas, 3 Matthew Austin, 4 Sam Gregory, 5 Tom Lockwood, 6 Will Sass, 7 Euan Alldis, 8 Josh Kenyon.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Peberdy, 17 Lewis Hayes, 18 Charlie Carter, 19 Morgan Christian, 20 Jack Purnell, 21 Sam Wood, 22 LiamMcGowan