- First Twickenham cup final appearances for both schools
- Coopers’ Company and Welbeck beaten at Broadstreet
Norwich School will meet Sandbach School in the final of this season's Daily Mail RBS Schools Under-18 Vase at Twickenham Stadium on March 31 after they won their respective semi-finals at Broadstreet RFC near Coventry today.
Norwich, who were followed from Norfolk by a coachload of 40 supporters including their headmaster, defeated The Coopers' Company and Coborn School from Essex 13-6.
It was Norwich’s first semi-final appearance in any of the schools cup competitions. The best they had done before was reaching the last 16 of last season’s Under-18 Cup.
In the second semi final, Sandbach School from Cheshire were comfortable winners over Leicestershire’s Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College, 23-5 with four tries to one.
Norwich played into the wind, which increased in strength as the first match wore on, and were forced back in a good opening 15-minute spell for Coopers’ which included a penalty goal by full back Iain Meads.
But Norwich got on top in the set-piece, particularly the scrum, with good control in the partnership between No.8 Ben Girling and scrum half Sam Comer.
Just before half time a penalty kicked for a lineout gave Norwich a chance to run a set move which paid off perfectly as the catch-and-drive brought the opening try by second row Tom Ramsey and a 5-3 lead.
Coopers’ started the second half as well as they had done the first and fly half Mike Titterton defied the breeze in his face with a dropped goal to take the lead back, 6-5.
But Norwich’s captain and fly half, Rhys Davies-Horne, used the conditions cleverly to kick for position and put the Coopers’ back three under pressure. In midfield George Catchpole was in good form having broken off from training with the England Under 16 squad at Warwick School.
From one good kick Coopers’ were turned over, the pressure built and open-side flanker George Fenton scrambled over for Norwich’s second try. A penalty by Davies-Horne made it 13-6 and, effectively two scores ahead with two tries in the bag, Norwich could see out the match in comfort.
"Our back row of Ben Girling, George Fenton and Seth Rodger combined well and our defence was good throughout," said Ian Grisewood, the Norwich coach, who is in his 10th year at the school having joined from London Oratory in 2000.
"Coopers’ played a good match but they weren’t able to find the gaps they were looking for.
"Though I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet, we can start looking forward to a final at Twickenham. The school will have broken up on the Friday beforehand, so we should expect plenty of support on the day."
Turnaround for Sandbach
Sandbach have improved remarkably from a shaky start to the season when around half their squad were injured and they lost their first three matches without scoring a point. They have now won 11 matches back to back.
And the Cheshire school, who were roared on by around 150 supporters including a busload from Sandbach RFC who had been at Twickenham watching England play the day before, can now look forward to a first schools cup final at the stadium.
Sandbach had been concerned before the match at their relative lack of size compared with Welbeck, who prepare students for life as an officer in the Armed Forces and the Civil Service.
"Welbeck were very well drilled and committed but without being arrogant and the type of rugby we played was a great advertisement for schools rugby," said Sandbach coach Simon Robertson.
"If it hadn’t been for Welbeck’s great cover defence and all-round tackling, we could have put the game away before half time."
In fact Sandbach led 13-5 at the interval, with a penalty goal by their captain and full back Tom Doubleday and tries by wing Jordan East and blind-side flanker Josh Longson replied to by a try from Welbeck fly half Will Reeve.
Sandbach led 18-5 when Longson crossed for his second try but a good spell for Welbeck followed when Sandbach had vice-captain Matthew Beesley sent to the sin bin.
"Welbeck’s catch and drive, and pick and go play, were their strengths and our back row of Josh Longson, Will Bordill and Rory Prentice had to put in a phenomenal amount of work at the breakdown," said Robertson.
"I can’t give enough praise to Joel Unsworth, my 24-year-old co-coach who has been with us for 15 or 16 months and knocked our pack into shape.
"Tom Doubleday missed some goal kicks but the purists on the sidelines would much prefer to concentrate on his ability to ride and break a tackle, and get his team across the gainline."
It was left to James Beal, a 15-year-old wing from Year 11 who has been called into the North Under 16 squad, to finish the scoring with the fourth Sandbach try.
Sandbach have appeared in three Cheshire Cup finals in the last 10 years, winning one. But after going no further than the fourth round of the Daily Mail RBS Schools Under-18 Cup or the fifth round in the Vase the Twickenham date on March 31 will, in Robertson’s words, "take us on to a completely different level."