London & SE and the South West claimed victories on the opening day of the Under-18 Divisional Festival at Walsall's Delves Road ground today.
London & SE edged out Midlands 7-3 in a scrappy opening match with the South West turning on the style to defeat the North 20-10 in a more entertaining second game.
The four sides will now move on to Castlecroft in Wolverhampton for the second day of the Divisional Festival on Saturday December 30 where the Midlands will play the North in the third-place play-off at 10.30am with London and the South West meeting in the title decider at 12.30pm.
London dominated their game for long periods but a combination of determined defence by the Midlands combined with their own handling errors combined to restrict them to just one converted try.
All the scoring was sandwiched into a three minutes period midway through the first half.
Fly-half Cameron Pimlow (RGS Worcester and North Midlands) gave the Midlands the lead with a penalty but they held it for only two minutes before London put together a swift attack and left wing Will Browne (London Welsh and Middlesex) crossed for the only try of the match.
Centre Richard Coskie (London Wasps and Middlesex) added the conversion and, despite some near-misses in the second-half, that is the way the score stayed until the final whistle.
Both sides turned over possession with frustrating regularity and the Midlands three-quarters were given little opportunity to show their paces and impress the watching England selectors who will sit down at the end of the festival to name squads to prepare for the Home Unions Tournament in Glasgow between April 6 and 15 and the AER European Championships in Biarritz from March 30 to April 8.
There was more for the selectors to enthuse about in the second game as a well-drilled South West side were resilient enough to hold off a spirited challenge from an enterprising North.
Both sides showed a willingness to spin the ball wide and the South West's early enterprise was rewarded with a well-worked try for left winger Henry Trinder (Cirencester and Gloucestershire) which was followed by a penalty from fly-half Mark Davies (St Peter's HS, Gloucester and Gloucestershire).
The North's main threat was expected to be posed by their quartet Sedbergh School backs, Ed Styles, Tom Casson, Georgte Drake and Charles Simpson-Daniel. But they were kept in check by the South West's well-organised defence and instead the North scored their two unconverted tries from line-out drives.
Openside flanker Rob Bell (Durham School, Newcastle Falcons and Durham) claimed the first with hooker and captain Matt Baker (Winstanley College, Sale Sharks and Lancashire) scoring the second late in the second half.
Centre Scott Morris (Colston's School, Stourbridge and Gloucestershire) cancelled out Bell's try when he crossed for a try which capped an industrious performance.
Trinder got his second try midway through the second half and Davies added the conversion which enabled the South West to weather the North's late fightback.