Photo: Capture the Event
Dulwich College, the school that helped to develop the likes of Nick Easter and Andrew Sheridan, will set a recent record for three Cup finals in a row as they head to Twickenham for the NatWest Schools U18 Cup contest. Unbeaten since first entering the competition in the 2011-12 season, the black and blues edged out RGS High Wycombe in the Allianz Park semis to face Warwick School at the Home of England Rugby.
While their quality this year was evident, few outside of the South London School’s gates would have expected the champions to be running out at Twickenham again this year with such a talented upper sixth age group moving on from last year.
But they have gone about their business under the radar in an efficient way with wins against Chislehurst and Sidcup (30-7, third round), Eltham (32-0, fourth round), Felsted (41-32, fifth round), Judd (22-7, sixth round), Trinity (15-5, seventh round) and Lymm (19-10, quarter-final), before a heroic defensive effort saw them through a dramatic semi-final against RGS High Wycombe as 7-3 winners.
Their success this season has come as no surprise to Head Coach Sam Howard, who said: “All along the boys have known I was going to play us down, but since May when we first started training, we've always said we would win something this year, St Jo's (St. Joseph’s national festival), the NatWest Schools Cup or The Rosslyn Park Sevens. We know we have a huge task against Warwick but we now have a great opportunity.
“I think the final will be a great game of rugby, we have ten players in the team that played last year so nerves shouldn't be an issue, which will mean we will hopefully execute in attack when we have the ball. We can only really do this when we have 15 players on the pitch though! Warwick have some excellent players throughout the team and aren't afraid to run the ball from anywhere.”
Meanwhile Warwick School have had a roller-coaster journey to reach Twickenham this year for the first time at U18 level since they won the competition in 2007.
Their campaign began initially with some straightforward wins against North Leamington (50-0, third round), Princethorpe (45-6, fourth round) before stunning draws with Solihull (31-31, round), Stamford (22-22, seventh round), either side of a sixth-round 46-7 win against Bloxham.
They then saw off Stowe School 12-5 in abysmal conditions in the quarter-final before resisting a late comeback from Durham to win their semi-final 20-15.
Head Coach Mark Nasey knows what is awaiting his side in the final. He said: “Everyone is feeling good, if a little battered and bruised. I think the 4G surface at Allianz Park leaves a bit of skin on the pitch if you know what I mean.
“We’ve been semi-finalists a couple of times before, and at this stage it’s about keeping the boys thinking rationally, and to try to replicate that first-half performance against Durham.
“Fair play to Dulwich, I thought their defence was outstanding against High Wycombe. High Wycombe will probably have felt they had enough opportunities to win it, but as I said, the Dulwich defence was outstanding.
“They’ve got some big boys, and I’m sure they’ll pose a big, physical challenge. The whole school is abuzz at the minute with two sides having made the final. The whole community has got behind it as well, which is great.
“There’s just a real positive feel about the game at the minute, and hopefully we’ll have the same number of supporters as last year, if not more.”
NatWest Schools Cup Finals Day, March 29 - free entry
U15 Vase: Altrincham Grammar School v Graveney School – 11am
U15 Cup: QEGS Wakefield v Warwick School – 12.30pm
U18 Vase: Exeter College v Trent College – 2pm
U18 Cup: Warwick School v Dulwich College – 3.40pm