HSC’s Hampton’s Greatest Sporting Moments series is into Group Seven, and the competition is continuing apace. This piece tells the story of Seb Jewell OH (2006) and his Premiership Rugby debut. This will compete against three other moments in Group Seven. Vote in our Twitter poll on Friday to decide your favourite moments – the winner will progress to the quarter-final stage!
Time was, London Welsh were probably the best club team in the world. Back in the 1970s, they could field a Lions captain in John Dawes and a clutch of legendary outside backs like JPR Williams and Gerald Davies. Seven of their players were picked for the Lions tour of New Zealand in 1971. But time moves on, and by the passing of the millennium, that was all ancient history. By now, targets were more modest. Winning a place in the Premiership, for example, and hanging onto it.
Seb Jewell excelled at rugby while at school. From the Hampton School First XV he won a place at Harlequins alongside young stars like Mike Brown. Selected for England U20 to partner a young Danny Care at half-back, he picked up Man of the Match in a 30 – 10 victory over Italy.
Next came selection for the Barbarians against the Army at Twickenham. And when first-team starts proved difficult to engineer at Quins, a place at Esher brought him, among other experiences, a hugely satisfying promotion to England’s second tier. “The National One title-winning season was probably the most enjoyable of my career,” he recalled in an interview with HSC in 2018.
A move to Wasps in 2011 brought a sniff of first-team action – two Premiership appearances off the bench – but it was when he switched to Championship contenders London Welsh that Seb’s prospects began to brighten. “With Sonny Parker, Gavin Henson and Hudson Tonga’uiha ahead of me,” says Seb, “I didn’t expect to start, but ended up forcing my way in and making the 12 shirt my own.” Even so, promotion to the Premiership was expected to bring a deluge of defeats. Confidence was brittle and victories were needed to avoid an immediate return to the second tier.
The chance came against Exeter Chiefs. After two defeats, Welsh needed to show they were in the Premiership on merit and intended to stay there. But Exeter – promoted the season before, and showing that survival was possible – took an early lead with two converted tries. Welsh fought back to secure a 15 – 14 half-time advantage, but a third try for Exeter left Welsh six points behind with the clock ticking down. Welsh pressed hard, before a last-gasp try cut the gap between the sides to a single point. Did Jewell reflect on the significance of his conversion before launching the ball between the posts? If he did, it didn’t deflect him, and his kick sailed between the uprights to secure for Welsh their first-ever Premiership victory.
Alas, this is a story without a happy ending. Embroiled in a legal dispute, Welsh were relegated at the end of the season, and though they bounced straight back, their most recent season in the top division is best forgotten. Seb started the second season at full-back, but injury took him away from the action, and by season’s end, his appetite for the game was weakening. “I’d had enough of rugby at that time,” he remembers. “I’d gone through so much, and I felt I needed a break.” A new career in business began to emerge, and he has not returned to the rugby field. But memories of playing for the Barbarians, of starring for England U20s and of landing match-winning kicks in the English Premiership suggest there will be no shortage of dramatic memories to tell the grandchildren.