By Josh Bartholomew
Hampton’s U15 rugby team lost 21-10 to Whitgift in a pulsating semi-final at Allianz Park. An early try from Tim Lamming, added to by five points from the boot of fly-half Jamie Benson weren’t enough as a powerful Whitgift side scored twice in the closing stages to book their place at Twickenham.
Hampton had the better of the early exchanges, and Whitgift prop Lucas Bibb was sin binned for taking out Benson in the air. The Hampton fly-half kicked the ball into the 22, and a short spell of pressure resulted in centre Lamming crashing over the whitewash with six minutes on the clock. Benson converted to give his side a 7-0 lead.
The U15s continued to dominate possession and territory, and a smart box kick from Luke Greenall almost saw Hampton score a second, but Whitgift managed to reach the ball first and clear to touch.
Harlequins academy fly-half Benson was controlling proceedings, but the Whitgift defence was holding strong at the crucial moments, and Hampton couldn’t find their way to the try-line for a second time.
In spite of their strong defence, Whitgift’s attacking play lacked precision and structure, consisting of pick and go tactics throughout. The Hampton side was able to counteract this for the most part with their own defensive valour, and were unlucky not to keep the Whitgift attack at bay until half-time.
As it was, Whitgift’s pick and go strategy was proving fairly successful with huge ball carriers such as hooker Piero Noah and flanker Omari Malcolm providing Hampton’s steady defensive unit with a stern test. Eventually, Malcolm was able to barge his way over the try-line just before the interval, and the conversion left the score-line at 7-7, promising a nail-biting second half.
Hampton came out firing after the break, and strong ball carries from Tom Tomlin and Rupert Reddish gave their side a strong attacking platform to build off. Back rower Tomlin came within inches of putting his team into a lead, but was denied by a last-ditch tackle from former Hampton pupil, and Whitgift full-back Gon Declercq. The attacking play continued, and Hampton settled for three points courtesy of Jamie Benson’s boot.
Only minutes later Benson would find himself in the action once again, breaking through numerous Whitgift defenders to find himself one-on-one with Declercq, before the Whitgift full-back illegally tackled him.
This decision not to show Declercq a yellow card looked dubious when the referee sent Hampton lock Jack Slaney to the sin-bin from an ensuing line-out, adjudging him to have brought the maul down illegally.
Whitgift went straight into the Hampton 22, and their strong forward pack was desperately trying to turn around a three-point deficit with only minutes to play.
Hampton were defending superbly, and held up the Whitgift ball carriers numerous times, repelling attack after attack on their try-line, but eventually Piero Noah managed to bulldoze his way over after a relentless spell of offensive pressure.
The desperation was now Hampton’s, as they trailed by four points, but Whitgift were able to power their way down the field and over the try-line as a shattered Hampton defence saw their stunning national cup run come to an end at the semi-final stage.