Schools Cup Finals – u/18 Previews

 

Schools Cup Final - Warwick v QEGS Wakefield 

Over the last few years these two sides have seem to be inextricably linked in this tournament and that, with the greatest of respect to both Whitgift and Northampton School for Boys, makes this perhaps the final the most neutrals would have wished for.

Why, because there is a quite incredible story. In three successive years, these two met in the U15 Schools Cup final, Warwick winning in 2013 and 2014, QEGS finally getting their own back in 2015.

In 2016, with a side mainly made up of those losing U15 finalists, QEGS reached the U18 final, where they lost to a Bromsgrove side completing the second of back to back titles.

The following year, 2017, Warwick reached the final with a side made up mainly of the winning U15 finalists of 2014. They also met Bromsgrove but halted their Midlands rivals’ challenge to become just the third side to win three in a row, claiming a first U18 title for Warwick since 2007.

A year on and these two both reach the final, the question is, will it be a repeat of that 2015 U15 final with QEGS winning, or will Warwick turn the tables and emulate Bromsgrove by claiming back to back U18 titles.

What both sides have done across the U18 and U15 tournaments truly is remarkable. Between them, they have fifteen finals appearances, not including Wednesday’s.

Warwick has the greater conversion rate though, in three U18 finals they have won twice, only losing in 2014 to that remarkable hat-trick of titles from Dulwich College. At the U15 level, they also have two from three, only that QEGS win in 2015 denied them three from three.

QEGS, on the other hand, have reached Twickenham an incredible four times at U18 level in advance of Wednesday’s final, 2016, 2000, 1996, and 1995, and yet on each occasion, they have come away on the losing side. Ending that run perhaps might not be the motivation for those on the field, but for those in the stands that is a record that they will want to change.

So for a remarkable 6th year in a row, there will be a Warwick/QEGS presence at Twickenham, but who are the favourites.

Taking that U15 victory with the same group into account, QEGS must feel confident. However, Warwick is reigning champions are will be fuelled with confidence from that.

Warwick has certainly found the going easier in terms of getting to the final, they breezed through the early rounds in relative comfort, including a stunning 57-12 quarterfinal win over Canford.

They found the going tough against Whitgift in the semi-final at Allianz Park though. At 10-0 down they were staring down the barrel, however, it was a mark of their quality, composure, and character, that they were able to get out of that with a 15-10 win. Mentally that will have done so much for them, but physically it will have taken its toll, and nine days is not a lot of time.

QEGS were made to work hard in their quarter-final by Northampton School for Boys for their 19-12 win too, but it was nothing like as bruising or emotionally draining as Warwick’s.

Until that point their campaign had definitely been the more challenging of the two, indeed they could so easily have fallen at their first hurdle. After walkovers in their opening two games, they drew 27-27 with an St Peter’s York side that were good enough to have gone all the way to Twickenham themselves. They just squeaked through as the away side. That game was followed by another tough one, this time in the last 16, as they just edged RGS Newcastle 12-7.

Like Warwick overcoming Whitgift though, these tight wins are what makes teams and QEGS’ strength as a group will have jumped considerably as a result of progressing through those games in such tight circumstances.

That is what is so impressive about both of these teams, not only are the outstanding rugby teams that play superb rugby. Nor is it just that they have remarkable Schools Cup records, intertwined with a brilliant shared history and rivalry in the competition. It is that both of these sides a mentally outstanding, they know what it takes to win in knockout rugby, they work themselves to the ground, and they play with supreme passion.

 

The U18 Schools Plate final at Sixways Stadium on Tuesday will see Trinity and Woodhouse Grove meet for the 4 pm kickoff.

Neither side has won national knockout fifteen-a-side silverware at the U18 level before, but one will come away with some early on Tuesday evening.

Woodhouse Grove has some experience though, as a school, back in 2007 they claimed the U15 Vase, but that will be a distant memory now, what will be less distant though is the memory of their 2013 Daily Mail Trophy league triumph. For Trinity, this is the furthest they have ever gone, although they have had some wonderful sides, not least the one of a couple of years ago featuring Harlequins’ Gabriel Ibitoye.

Trinity came oh so close to never being in this Plate final, they lost by a mere four points in the Cup first round, 14-10, to an Eltham College side that went on to have a cracking Cup run.

Since then though Trinity has had an excellent Plate run. Until the semi-final they had not scored fewer than thirty points in any game in the competition, their crowning glory being the 41-16 defeat of New Hall in the quarter-final.

Though they may have scored fewer points in the semi-final, it was arguably their best performance. Certainly, it was their best defensive performance, conceding just five points to an St Ambrose College side that has enjoyed a very good season. They would have taken every bit as much satisfaction from that 21-5 win as they would from the 41-16 win the round previously.

Woodhouse Grove’s strength is perhaps best demonstrated by who they went out to and how in the Cup first round. They had a horrible draw, facing a very strong St Peter’s York side in what was probably the toughest first round draw of the competition. That they, and indeed Trinity, are in this final proves exactly why this competition exists, to give those that were handed a brutal first-round Cup draw a chance to demonstrate their quality and enjoy a strong knockout run.

They only lost that game narrowly, 27-20, but it is what St Peter’s did a couple of rounds later than serves to demonstrate Woodhouse Grove’s quality. They drew 27-27 with QEGS Wakefield, going out because they were the home side, from there QEGS have gone on to reach the Cup final at Twickenham. That is how good St Peter’s are, and how close to them Woodhouse Grove are.

It has been a bit of a weird Plate run for Woodhouse Grove though, it started off with an excellent 50-0 win over Dame Allan’s, but they then had byes right the way through to the national stages of the competition.

Once in the national stages though, they were able to show their quality, beating Uppingham 22-7 in the quarters before a quite brilliant 43-5 semi-final win over former U18 Cup winners, St Peter’s Gloucester.

There is no doubt that both of these sides could have enjoyed strong Cup runs had they had a more favourable opening round draw, which makes Tuesday’s Plate final both a fitting one and also a hugely exciting and high-quality one.

It ought to be a fantastic game of rugby, providing these two excellent sides with a fantastic chance at silverware and a deserved day out at the magnificent facility that is Sixways Stadium.

 

When Wirral Grammar School and Langley meet for the U18 Schools Vase Final at Twickenham on Wednesday, 2 pm kickoff, it is going to be a fascinating matchup.

 In Wirral Grammar School you have the team that, arguably more than anyone in any of the Schools Cup competitions this year, just know home to get across the line for the win.

Time and time again in this Vase run they have been in a real dogfight and each time they have emerged victorious. Just look at some of the scorelines, 25-24 against Birkenhead in Round 3, 22-19 against Giggleswick in the last 16, 19-17 in Tuesday’s semifinal against Ripon Grammar.

Perhaps their crowning glory though, thus far, was their 20-12 victory over Reed’s in the quarterfinals. It was not as close as some of the others, but it was against a side that many were predicting would be in the final, right from the very start of the tournament.

Wirral was fantastic that day, and they will have to be again on Wednesday at Twickenham because in Langley they face a side that has been utterly dominating the Vase competition to this point.

In six games the Norwich based side have not scored any fewer than 40 points. Twice they have scored over eighty. In Tuesday’s semifinal, normally tense, nervous, low-scoring affairs, they beat a very good Dauntsey’s side 41-5. It was sensational rugby executed with a shred of doubt or nerves.

They have been the class of the field, playing a brand of rugby that has excited and succeeded in equal measure.

The task then for Wirral is to halt that try-scoring capability, to draw Langley into a tight contest, the sort that Wirral has shown over and over again that they emerge victorious from. In that scenario, might Langley tighten, might there be a sniff?

For Langley, though it will be about doing more of the same, keep the tempo up, keep looking for that tryline and ignore the Twickenham factor.

Whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating tactical battle, for one side glory, but for both sides history and a day to be proud of. For both, this is the first appearance in a Twickenham final, a superb achievement of its own.

 

Tuesday’s U18 Schools Bowl Final certainly gives us plenty to be excited about as Samuel Whitbread meet St George’s College Weybridge at Sixways, kicking off at 2 pm.

 It is only the second ever Bowl final, and this one really proves why this Bowl was created. St George’s were knocked out in the opening round of the Vase to their great rivals and one of the strongest teams in the competition, Reed’s.

It was a really tight game, ending 18-13 to Reed’s, who then went on to reach the quarter-finals. The Bowl gave St George’s a chance to have a knockout run, which is exactly what it is there for, to give sides who had a horrible first round draw to show something of themselves.

Show something of themselves they most certainly have. They kicked off their Bowl run with a stunning 61-7 win over ACS Cobham International and have not looked back since. They have not really been overly troubled by the campaign and their semi-final win over a very much in form Ravens Woodside was particularly impressive.

It was not overly high scoring, 19-3, but anyone keeping a semi-final opponent down to just three is doing something very right indeed.

Samuel Whitbread has been just has impressive too. Like St George’s they enjoyed an early dominant win, beating Saffron Walden, who is in the final of the U15 version of the Bowl, by a crunching 50-0 margin.

They saved their best for the quarterfinals though, dominating Ashville College for a seriously impressive 67-0 victory. They have been tested though, most notably in their semi-final against a strong King Henry VIII Coventry side. They came through it well though, securing a 21-15 victory to send them into this final.

It will be a first-ever National final for Samuel Whitbread, but given their performances so far, that ought not to faze them. For St George’s College, it is a second national final, they previously reached the 2011 U18 Vase, where they were captained by England’s Anthony Watson, who makes his first start as a fullback against France on Saturday.

The question they will be asking is can they go one better than that 2011 side and come home with the silverware? In Samuel Whitbread, they will come up against an opponent that will be doing everything in their power to stop them.

 

 

 

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