- Sin-binnings costly for Stowe
- Wilkins praises dogged Whitgift
RGS Newcastle will meet Whitgift School from Croydon in this season’s Daily Mail RBS Schools Under-18 Cup final at Twickenham on March 31 after they enjoyed comfortable victories in today’s semi-finals at Broadstreet RFC near Coventry.
Whitgift, the old school of Danny Cipriani, beat RGS High Wycombe 29-7 after RGS had opened a day of entertaining rugby with a 21-6 victory over Stowe School from Buckinghamshire.
Stowe brought 17 coachloads of supporters to Coventry which made for one of the biggest semi-finals crowds of recent years but they could not find ways to unlock at tight RGS defence.
Two first-half yellow cards for winger Jamie Knight and lock Tom Baldwin meant that Stowe had to play a containing game rather than the attacking rugby that they unleashed in the second half.
Baldwin’s absence proved particularly costly as RGS Newcastle scored their opening try through powerful prop Fraser Balmain, a member of the Newcastle Falcons Academy, while he was off the pitch.
RGS had to leave out fly-half Joel Hodgson, who suffered a dead leg playing for England Under-18s against France last Sunday, but Lewis Munnelly proved a capable deputy.
Munnelly kicked penalties at the start of each half and RGS sealed victory with two tries in the last ten minutes both scored by scrum-half Drew Harding after No.8 and captain Tom Harrison had picked up at the base of close range scrums.
Victory was a personal success for RGS’s director of rugby Andy Watt in his first season in charge having replaced Paul Ponton.
Ponton retired last summer after 38 seasons in charge but was at Broadstreet to see his former charges book their place in the final. Watt was assisted by former Scotland winger Jim Pollock.
"To replace Paul Ponton after 30-odd years and to take these lads to Twickenham in my first year is unbelievable," Watt said.
"Defensively I have yet to see a team that can defend for their lives as well as we can. To shut them out today was very good and one of the main reasons we got to Twickenham."
There were different emotions for Alan Hughes, Watt’s counterpart at Stowe who had to rely on two penalties from fly-half Ben Roe for their points.
"We were thrilled to bits that we got this far but I think we under-performed on the day," said the former England Under-16 coach.
"It was difficult playing with only 14 men for 20 minutes. We had to go to a kicking game in the first half because we only had 14 on the park and you can’t afford to mess around if you are a bit light.
"It doesn’t matter how we hype up the season – and we have had a terrific season – they are only going to think about today rather than the games we have won."
Back row secure Whitgift passage
RGS High Wycombe were also left to reflect on what might have been after they failed to convert early pressure into points and were worn down by Whitgift’s powerful pack and the back row of Olly Dickerson, Herbie Butler and Harry Ledger in particular.
Whitgift took the lead against the run of play with a penalty from England Under-18 centre Elliot Daly and built on it when fly-half Rob White slipped an inside pass to centre Marland Yarde, fresh from two tries for England Under-18s in their win over France, who was given a clear run to the line.
Daly added the conversion and he also improved Whitgift’s second try three minutes later when RGS centre Chris Elder had to deal with a low pass from scrum-half James McCue.
Elder found himself under pressure from Dickerson who charged down his clearance kick and followed up to touch down.
Elder atoned when he gathered a fumble by Yarde and powered over from long distance with centre Tomaso Allan adding the conversion.
But any thoughts of an RGS revival were snuffed out when tighthead prop Harry Williams drove over from close range and Whitgift scored again when winger Lawrence Okoye, a Jonah Lomu lookalike, clattered through some tired tackling and Daly added the extras.
"It wasn’t our best performance, we gave too many penalties away and we didn’t get as much quick ball as we would have liked so credit to RGS for that," said Whitgift’s director of rugby Chris Wilkins.
"But in the end it was some old-fashioned spirit, we worked hard and dogged it out and we are pleased to get to the final.
"We want to go on and play well at Twickenham. There is no point in getting to the final and then play badly."
RGS High Wycombe, twice beaten finalists in this competition, could not secure the quick ball they needed to give Whitgift a sterner test and their coach Jon Scourfield was generous in defeat.
"I think in the end Whitgift had too much power for us," Scourfield said. "I take nothing away fom them because they were the best team today without a shadow of a doubt."
RGS were watched by lock Alex Palmer who is recuperating having ruptured his spleen in the semi-final win over QEGS Wakefield. The injury means that Palmer will have to take medication for the rest of his life.
Around half of RGS’s squad were Under-16 and will they have the opportunity to use today’s disappointment as valuable experience when they compete in next season’s competition.