LONDON & SE took this season's Under-18 Divisional Festival title with a hard-earned 29-18 win over the North in an entertaining final at Moseley's Billesley Common ground today.
London recovered well after conceding a first minute try but the result was on doubt until replacement open side flanker James Speirs (Roundwood Park School, Harpenden and Hertfordshire) crossed for the deciding try in the final minute.
The two winners from Friday's opening matches produced a free-flowing encounter which began with a try from North centre George Elliot (Giggleswick School, Leeds Carnegie and Yorkshire) who rounded off an attack down the left.
It was Elliot's second try in as many minutes in the Festival as he scored with the final play of the match to snatch victory over the South West on Friday.
But London recovered well from that early setback and soon levelled when scrum-half Matt Keyte (Dulwich College, Harlequins and Surrey) sniped over for an unconverted try after a sustained attack.
A penalty from centre Christian Georgiou (Crossley Heath School, Old Brodleians and Yorkshire) restored the North's lead but London continued to make inroads through the penetrative running of centre Henry Staff (Bedford Modern School, Saracens and Hertfordshire) and left wing Marland Yarde (Whitgift School, London Irish and Middlesex).
It was a break from Staff that set up fly-half Sam Stanley (Oaklands College, Saracens and Essex), the nephew of former New Zealand centre Joe Stanley, for the try that allowed London to regain the lead.
Replacement Craig Ratford (Twyford CE High School, London Wasps and Middlesex) and London scored again when lock Kieran Low (Havant College, Chichester and Sussex) drove over late in the first half.
The lead was reduced to four points when North wing Jordon Kennedy (Wilmslow HS, Sale Sharks and Cheshire), the son of Sale owner Brian Kennedy, crossed four minutes into the second half but Ratford then set up loosehead prop Rob Buchanan (Ar Bedes School, Harlequins and Sussex) for an important try which he also improved.
Forward pressure created a try for the North's replacement loosehead prop Simon McIntyre (St Bedes School, Broughton Park and Lancashire) which set up a tense finale.
But Speirs sealed victory with a strong diagonal run to the line.
The South West won the third-place play-off by easing to a 39-7 win over a disappointing Midlands.
The South West were 27-0 up early in the second half through tries from fly-half Tom Heathcoat (Bishop Wordworth's School, Bath and Dorset & Wilts), tight head prop Thomas Harrison (Hartpury College, Gloucester and Gloucestershire), full-back William Jones (Henley College, London Wasps and Oxfordshire) and replacement scrum-half Alex Jeffery (Ivybridge College, South West Regional Academy and Devon). Heathcote added one conversion.
Openside flanker Oliver Robinson (Prior Park College, Bath and Somerset) featured prominently in the build-up to two of the South West's tries and he was watched by his father Andy, the former England flanker and coach.
The Midlands rallied for a time in the second half and scored a consolation try when replacement flanker Sam Farmer (Bedford School, Northampton Saints and East Midlands) drove over from close range and Lee Chapman (Hartpury College, Old Coventrians and Warwickshire) tagged on the conversion.
But the South West finished the stronger side and pulled away again with replacement winger Ryan Brend (Hartpury College, Gloucester and Devon) and Jones, again, scoring further tries the last of which was converted by replacement Michael Wilcox (St Peter's RC HS, Gloucester and Gloucestershire).
The Divisional Festival was switched from Broadstreet to Moseley because of the forecast of freezing weather conditions over the weekend. All matches were played on the 3G rubber crumb all-weather pitch at Moseley.
Seven of the players involved in the Divisional Festival are likely to be included in the England Under-18 squad to prepare for the Six Nations Tournament in Italy from April 12-18.
A second England Under-18 squad of around 30 players will be selected to prepare for the AER European Tournament in the Toulon area of France from April 5 to 11.
The England AER squad will train at Bromsgrove School on the weekends of January 30-February 1 and February 6-8.
Matches against the Worcester Warriors Academy (February 22) and the Northampton Saints Academy (March 8) will be played at Bromsgrove School before the international against Japan High Schools at Plymouth Albion on Sunday March 22 (2.30pm).