By Josh Bartholomew
Hampton’s 1st XV competed brilliantly to come close to reaching the Cup final at the St. Joseph’s College Festival against fellow top rugby schools.
After a frustrating last-gasp defeat to Kirkham in their opening game, Hampton resoundingly beat QEGS Wakefield and Dulwich College to reach the Cup competition on Day Two.
The second day was a challenging affair, but Hampton can take solace from their third-place pool finish in a group with traditional powerhouses Wellington College and Brighton College, as well as defending champions RGS Newcastle.
Arriving at the festival with high expectations after a convincing 38-0 victory over Berkhamsted in the Champions Trophy Round of 16, Hampton were extremely unfortunate to fall to defeat against eventual runners up Kirkham Grammar School in their opening group game.
After taking a 3-0 lead through the boot of fly-half Jamie Benson, Hampton appeared to have dotted down over the try-line after a series of pick-and-goes, but the referee disagreed. Even so, it looked as if Hampton would finish their first game of the tournament the victors as the clock ticked dead. But Kirkham refused to fall without a fight, and Hampton found themselves staring defeat in the face after a rampaging run from Kirkham’s prop, who stepped past multiple black and gold defenders to dive under the posts and ensure a 3-7 defeat for Hampton.
It was a devastating defeat for a Hampton team who had dominated much of the game against one of the North’s finest rugby schools, made all the more frustrating by the likelihood that Hampton would have to win each of their next two games – against QEGS Wakefield and Dulwich College.
The 1stXV started powerfully against QEGS Wakefield, and soon took the lead through Joe Sykes’ try, who was set up after some fine link-up play between Benson and lock Max Goldin. Hampton furthered their lead only minutes later with a score that was later awarded ‘Try of the Tournament.’
Receiving the ball from the kick-off – only metres from his own line – uncompromising London Irish academy representative Tim Lamming broke clear before offloading brilliantly to front-rower Rupert Reddish, who himself found fellow forward Jack Slaney. The strapping lock was able to set up Alex Taylor, who returned the favour with a startling offload back to Slaney who rampaged upfield to score a wonderful try.
The try gave Hampton a 12-0 lead, and the team showed remarkable intensity to finish 38-0 victors over their opponents, setting up a winner-takes-all clash against historic rivals Dulwich College.
Dulwich pose a stiff threat for any school with their star-studded fleet of academy players, but Hampton have held the upper hand in recent years, winning 19-29 two years ago and being on the right side of a Louis Lynagh inspired 25-21 Champions Trophy victory last season.
And it was this pattern which continued at St. Jo’s, with Hampton carrying on their form, combining exquisite skills and powerful forward-play to overwhelmingly beat Dulwich 41-0 and secure their place in the Cup competition on Day Two.
To beat Dulwich so convincingly in a high-pressure, effectively knockout game bodes extremely well for the remainder of Hampton’s season: the crunch Champions Trophy quarter-final at home to Uppingham, and the Sevens tournaments after Christmas.
First, though, there was the small matter of a St. Jo’s Cup group to contend with. Hampton were drawn into a pool of death with the tournament’s two previous winners – RGS Newcastle and Brighton – as well as the returning Wellington College’s fleet of academy stars.
Hampton began strongly against RGS Newcastle, looking at home against the added physicality supplied by the Northern powerhouse, but it was their opponents who scored first, striking down the blindside after an efficient set-piece move. After the successful touchline conversion, Hampton fell 0-7 behind.
But Hampton refused to go away, fighting back well and putting pressure on the RGS Newcastle defence. After forcing a ruck infringement, Harlequins academy fly-half Jamie Benson despatched a penalty from the half-way line, closing the deficit to four points at half-time.
After the interval, RGS Newcastle’s superior power eventually told, scoring two second-half penalties to take a 13-3 victory.
Hampton next faced Wellington College and their fabled rugby excellence. Once again, the side in black-and-gold looked far from the underdogs, going first 3-0 ahead before taking a 10-3 lead through London Irish centre Jesper Hartikainen’s exceptional score. Off a scrum on halfway, Benson received the ball and stepped through the Wellington defence at pace before finding Pat Silcox. The fullback was able to draw his man before finding Hartikainen who surged through, recovering from a slip to scythe past the final defender and score under the posts.
It was another remarkable score, testament to Hampton’s brand of exciting running rugby. But Wellington College hit back with a try almost straight away to level the score, and continued building on their phases to score again only minutes from time and settle a 10-18 victory.
Despite two unfortunate defeats early in the day, Hampton bounced back well to beat Brighton College 28-5 with a brilliant, professional display. Taking a 14-0 lead early on through tries from wingers Rory Carr and Dan Finlay, the 1stXV didn’t let Brighton back in despite second-half pressure, scoring twice more to end the day on a resoundingly positive note after a fine performance over the weekend.
“On day one there was a sense of dissatisfaction with regard to our first game but we managed to turn that around and execute two brilliant performances after that against two of England’s most storied rugby schools.
“I think the team got a taste of how unforgiving in nature the tournament is as we watched enviously as Kirkham took the field for the final. It was in the back of everyone’s minds that we could have been there if we had held out the morning before against them and as a result potentially been drawn a smoother ride for the second day.
“Despite this, it was great to build on last season’s successes at St. Jo’s and the lads greatly enjoyed what is easily one of the most anticipated and competitive tournaments for a schoolboy rugby player.”1st XV Captain, Theo Johnson