By Josh Bartholomew
Hampton’s 1st XV beat Tonbridge 24-15 with a professional performance to progress to the Round of 16 stage of the Champions Trophy.
Tries from Jesper Hartikainen, Alex Taylor and Luke Greenall as well as nine points from the boot of Jamie Benson ensured the 1st XV’s place in the second round, where they’ll travel to Berkhamsted.
Hampton began with energy and intensity, hitting the opposition ball-carriers hard and regularly forcing handling errors, one of which led to a penalty from near the half-way line. Fly-half Benson attempted the long-distance kick, but the wind took the ball wide.
Despite Hampton’s early dominance, it took until midway through the opening half for the home team to open the scoring. After a powerful carry through the middle from hooker Iestyn Humphrey, Hampton had a clear numerical advantage to the left and Hartikainen could dive over the line with ease to give his side a 7-0 lead after the successful conversion.
Hampton maintained their physical game plan in both attack and defence, and it wasn’t long before they were close to the line again. This time, blindside-flanker Taylor was able to barrel his way over to score and open up a clear advantage for the home team.
Yet Tonbridge were growing into the game admirably, and struck back shortly before half-time with a powerful score of their own. The conversion drifted wide, giving Hampton a 14-5 lead at the interval.
After half-time, a stalemate ensued, Hampton’s power and attrition being counteracted by frustrating handling errors and tenacious Tonbridge defence. The opening points of the half came in the closing stages, as the travelling team charged down a Benson clearance kick. Hampton did well to prevent a try after Tonbridge’s outside-centre broke free, but in doing so infringed, and a simple penalty-kick took the score to 14-8.
From this position, it looked as if the passionate Hampton faithful were in for a tense finale, much as they had been a year previously against Dulwich College. But after a spectacular leaping catch from London Irish academy representative Hartikainen, scrum-half Greenall sniped through a gap in the defence from the ruck and sprinted clear for an impressive score. Benson was again successful with the conversion, giving Hampton what appeared to be an unassailable 21-8 lead.
But Tonbridge just wouldn’t let their cup dreams die, and bounced back almost immediately, taking advantage of tiring Hampton defenders to score close to the touch line. Another successful conversion later, and the away team were back within one score.
Hampton were certainly keen to avoid a nervous finish, and Hartikainen leaped above all others again at the kick-off to secure his team possession once more. The home side built their phases before forcing a Tonbridge infringement at the ruck, leaving Benson with a simple penalty-kick to take the score to 24-15 and book Hampton a trip to Berkhamsted later this month.