On Wednesday 5th December, the 1st XV took on Epsom College in the U18 Schools Champions Trophy final at Allianz Park. This is the RFU’s top competition for schools at Under-18 level and it was an incredible achievement for Wellington to make this showpiece final. In order to get to this stage, the team had won multiple battles against strong schools. These included an excellent game versus RGS Guildford at home, a hard fought away win against a talented Berkhamsted side, and a semi-final against Bristol Grammar on their home turf.
The final itself was befitting of the occasion, the two teams matching each other physically and all players putting their bodies on the line in pursuit of a national title. After an early try from Tobias Scalabrini, ably converted by Will Sinfield, Wellington took a 7-0 lead. Unfortunately, this came at a heavy cost as captain, Fin Rossiter, and scrum half, Jamie Miller, were injured in the play leading up to the try. Olly Cash and Fin Livingstone-Learmonth replaced the injured players – both excellent players who demonstrate the depth of quality in Wellington at the moment.
Epsom then had a period where they took control of possession. The Wellington defence held firm, although two infractions led to kickable penalties which were taken and so the score narrowed to 7-6. And that is how it remained until half-time with neither side able to fully assert themselves.
Wellington started the second half strongly – a quick try from Fin Baxter took them to a 12-6 lead. A Wellington score seemed to spur Epsom and they responded well, gaining another penalty and then a well-taken try to take a 12-16 lead going into the final quarter.
Falling behind for the first time kick-started Wellington and the team became more accurate: Monty Bradbury controlled the game well; Cassius Cleaves made some dynamic runs; Max Thomas bossed the game from the back; and the whole pack worked tirelessly for each other. This was rewarded with a try for Marcus Rhodes which was converted by Will Sinfield to take the score to 19-12. Cassius Forshaw was also now asserting himself at the lineout and working ferociously at the breakdown, making it difficult for Epsom to get quality ball.
Wellington again went up a gear with Ross Hanekom, Ben Raho, Lucas Brooke and Ted Johnson puncturing holes in the Epsom defence, creating space for the likes of Harry Cain, Hector Elrington, Theo Burn and Alfie Mason to exploit.
Then came the telling moment: a loose kick from Epsom was gathered by Tobias Scalabrini and he did not hesitate to take advantage: he showed incredible pace and determination to beat the covering defence and race 60m to score what turned out to be a match-winning try in the corner. This took the score to 24-16 which is how it would remain.
Wellington then played sensible rugby to close the game out with replacement forwards Mack Keast and Ben Murrin stepping up to carry time and keep the team on the front foot.
When the final whistle came, the squad were jubilant. Rightly so, they had given everything in a superb advert for schoolboy rugby. Huge credit must go to Epsom as they too played superbly. It takes two teams to make a final of such quality. Special mention is due also to the supporters who were on brilliant form all day and showed impressive College spirit.
It was an incredible day which will live long in the memory of all there.
Only at Wellington.
Dan Richards, Head of RugbyBack to all news