By Josh Bartholomew
Fly half Jamie Benson inspired Hampton’s 1st XV to a 27-7 victory over Uppingham with a dominant first-half performance to progress to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. Tries from backs Aidan Barry, Pat Silcox, Rory Carr and Dan Finlay ensured Hampton’s place in the next round, where they’ll face either Wellington College, Epsom College or Rugby School.
After a strong showing at the St. Joseph’s Festival, Hampton were buoyed both by self-confidence and an unbeaten home record as Uppingham made the trip from the Midlands to Hanworth Road.
And it was Hampton who started stronger, clearing efficiently from the kick-off and building defensive pressure with intense physicality. The team’s skill in attack was equally impressive – after forcing the turnover, Hampton’s forwards and backs combined with technique and verve to begin the match proficiently.
It wasn’t long before the home team struck. After powerful forward play forced Hampton into Uppingham’s 22, the 1st XV quickly found space – centre Tim Lamming combined with Alex Taylor to send Aidan Barry over in the corner. Jamie Benson’s kick from out wide was unsuccessful, leaving Hampton with a 5-0 lead.
If Hampton’s first try was professionally taken, their second was sublime. Almost straight from the kick-off, the team broke to the half-way line with commanding carries from front-rowers Iestyn Humphrey and Rupert Reddish. But the best was yet to come – from a set-piece move, George Price found Benson with a creative pull-back.
Harlequins fly-half Benson sprinted free, showing excellent acceleration to ensure that only one defender was left to beat, and he did exactly that, finding Patrick Silcox with a sublime ball inside to score a wonderful try.
Uppingham were now firmly on the back foot, but their resilience was admirable as they fought to find a way back into the tie. Yet Hampton’s defence was equally tenacious – despite flanker Lucas Mangham’s yellow card, they managed to stay strong and reinforce their own attacking game plan.
With Uppingham’s renewed force and the lead remaining at just 12 points, Hampton’s advantage was by no means secure. But they continued to build on their lead, breaking into opposition territory once more. From an attacking five metre scrum – forced after another Benson break – Hampton spread the ball wide, where replacement winger Rory Carr scored. The conversion was again successful.
Hampton were entirely in the ascendency now with the pace of their backline play leaving Uppingham with few answers. After Toby Robinson’s skilful turnover on halfway, the 1stXV spread the ball wide, and London Irish academy player Hartikainen was able to sprint into open space. He drew the final defender adeptly to allow Dan Finlay to score in the corner, continuing his four-game scoring streak to give Hampton a 24-0 lead at half-time.
After the interval, Uppingham looked reinvigorated, attacking at pace to threaten the black and gold defensive line. Hampton managed to diminish the opposition menace with their own physicality, forcing numerous errors.
Their own attacking play wasn’t quite reaching the heights of the opening half, and the game turned into a scrappy encounter as Uppingham sought to overturn the large deficit. It looked as if they might do so when Leicester Tigers hooker Sam Westmacott set up winger Henry Hunt to score under the posts, reducing Hampton’s lead to 17 points.
Building some attacking pressure of their own after a scrappy middle period of the half, Hampton opted to take three points, sealing a 27-7 victory to book their place in the semi-finals of the fiercely competitive Champions Trophy.
It was a wonderfully clinical, skilful Hampton performance to beat a plucky Uppingham team who have their own array of academy stars.
1st XV captain Theo Johnson, who sat out the game with a hamstring injury, said: “We were pleased with the overall performance – the first half showed some of our distinctive style of play, we played our shapes and managed to score some slick tries through the backs. It was also pleasing to see the set piece working effectively.
“There are some fixes we can make from the second half – our performance dropped somewhat, but in a cup situation all that matters is the result. The whole team are very proud to have made it through to a national semi-final.”
The draw for the next round will be made on Friday at 12pm.