THE North and London & SE took the first day honours at the Under-18 Divisional Festival with contrasting victories at Moseley's Billesley Common ground today.
The North required a last-gasp try from replacement centre George Elliott (Giggleswick School, Leeds Carnegie and Yorkshire) to see off the South West 21-18 in a see-saw opening game.
But London eased to a 45-22 win over the Midlands in the second match, running in seven tries under the floodlights in the process.
Both matches were transferred from Broadstreet RFC near Coventry because of the forecast of freezing conditions in the Midlands and were played in the 3G rubber crumb all-weather surface at Moseley.
The opening game was marred by an early injury to North lock Richard Rhodes (Prince Henry's HS, Leeds Carnegie and Yorkshire) who suffered a suspected broken leg. The match was delayed for ten minutes while Rhodes received treatment.
When play resumed the South West took the lead with a try from full-back William Jones (Henley College, London Wasps and Oxfordshire) who rounded off a storming run from powerful left wing Guy Armitage (Wellington College, London Irish and Berkshire), the brother of England and London Irish full-back Delon.
The lead changed hands in the last nine minutes of the first half. North nudged ahead with two penalties from centre Andrew Hall (Newcastle RGS and Northumberland), London went back in front with a penalty from fly-half Michael Wilcox (St Peter's RC HS, Gloucester and Gloucestershire) but the North regained the lead when a fluent handling move set up fly-half Daniel Bibby (Kirkham GS, Aspull and Lancashire) for an unconverted try.
The South West hit back early in the second half when centre Jack Gadd (Filton College, Bristol and Gloucestershire) rounded off another good attack but Hall cancelled that score out when he slotted his third penalty nine minutes from time.
Replacement flanker Oliver Robinson (Prior Park College, Bath and Somerset) appeared to have clinched the game for the South West when he finished off an attack down the left but there was just time for the North to launch one last attack and they worked an overlap for Elliott who was engulfed by jubilant team-mates when he touched down. Replacement Christian Georgiou (Crossley Heath School, Old Brodleians and Yorkshire) tagged on the conversion.
The second match was more predictable but there was plenty of good rugby for the coaches and selectors from the two England Under-18 squads - one will compete in the Six Nations Championship, the other in the AER (Association Europeenne de Rugby ) tournament - to appreciate.
London eased into a 24-3 lead before they made a raft of second half substitutions, lost some of their shape and allowed the Midlands to pull back to 24-15 with Northampton Saints centre Jamie Elliot scoring two tries.
London wing Marland Yarde (Whitgift School, London Irish Academy and Middlesex) also caught the eye, powering over for a solo first half try and popping up in the right wing soon after the break for his second.
Full-back Jamie Hearn (Oaklands College, Saracens Academy and Hertfordshire) got London moving when he finished off a superb counter-attack started by a burst through the middle from number eight Ali Bone (Harrow School, Marlow and Middlesex) and supported by tight-head prop Will Collier (Cranleigh School, Harlequins Academy and Surrey).
The Midlands responded with a penalty from scrum-half Joe Glover (John Cleveland College, Leicester Tigers and Leicestershire) but Yarde's double strike either side of half-time broke their resistance.
Blindside flanker David Francis (Twyford College, London Wasps Academy and Middlesex) then galloped through some woeful tackling before the Midlands threw caution to the wind and Elliot (Bedford School and East Midlands) scored his brace of tries inside four minutes with Glover converting the first.
But the revival did not last. London fly-half Sam Stanley (Oaklands College, Saracens Academy and Essex), the nephew of former New Zealand centre Joe Stanley, crossed for their fifth try and then set up Hearn for his second with a cross field kick that bounced kindly for the full-back.
Stanley's opposite number Glyn Hughes (Stratton Upper School, Northampton Saints and East Midlands) dummied his way over for the Midlands' third try but London finished strongly, capitalising on a turnover to send replacement wing Christopher Rose (Richmond upon Thames School, Ealing and Middlesex) over. Stanley added five conversions.
The Midlands will now meet the South West at Moseley on Sunday January 4 (11am) in the third-place play-off) with the final between the North and London & SE following at 1pm.