By Josh Bartholomew
After a thrilling 38-0 victory at Berkhamsted last month, the 1st XV will today host Uppingham School for a place in the Champions Trophy semi-finals.
The team have managed to battle through a tough start to the season – losing to Cranleigh and Tonbridge – and are now competing with the very best in the country after a fine showing at the St. Joseph’s Festival.
Hampton were inches away from topping their group and forging a favourable path to the final on Day One, but a last-gasp defeat to Kirkham Grammar School in their opening game meant the team needed to beat QEGS Wakefield and Dulwich to progress to the Cup Groups on Day Two.
Hampton ultimately fell short on Day Two at St. Jo’s after being placed in a group of death with the last two winners RGS Newcastle and Brighton, as well as traditional powerhouse Wellington College.
During their weekend at the festival, Hampton wowed much of the spectating crowd with their ruthless mix of clinical, powerful forward play with dazzling skills from the backs. The team even won the Try of the Tournament award after lock Jack Slaney’s spectacular, length-of-the-field score against QEGS Wakefield.
And it’s this skill which makes their clash against Uppingham all the more mouth-watering. Uppingham are, themselves, an extremely skilful, talented side, who beat last season’s semi-finalists Hurstpierpoint in the last round. Steered by former Wasps and Scotland centre Nick de Luca, they are well-coached and promise a stiff test for this Hampton team.
But Hampton are equally talented: their forward pack is muscular, strong yet skilful; in the backs there are multiple playmakers, as well as a frightening blend of pace and power.
Yet the real test for Hampton will be how they cope with the loss of their two influential forwards – prop Theo Johnson is ruled out of the Uppingham game with a torn hamstring; back-rower Tommy Nagle remains on the side-lines for a few more games. It has forced a reshuffle in the pack: flanker George Price moves to hooker, with the back-row being made up of Lower Sixths Alex Taylor and Lucas Mangham, as well as their elder counterpart Archer Chilcott.
Even without Johnson and Nagle, Hampton have a number of academy players who will steer the ship: fly-half Jamie Benson is in his second-year of steering the team and has a very bright future; Jesper Hartikainen and Aiden Barry represent London Irish and Harlequins respectively.
As proven by their dominant win at Berkhamsted – a team littered with England age-grade internationals and Saracens academy players – Hampton are a tough proposition for any opposing side. Uppingham will also have to overturn their opponents’ unbeaten record at home so far this season.
It promises to be an uncompromising, physical clash at Hanworth Road, and a place in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy will be just reward for the victor.