By Sam Colvine
After a COVID-induced hiatus, the First XV finally returned to St Joseph’s College to participate in school rugby’s pre-eminent tournament: the National Schools Rugby Festival. Seeking to replicate the successes of the teams of 2015, 2016 and 2018, who all garnered silverware at this prestigious event, a strong squad set off for Ipswich.
Hampton 14-10 Newcastle
Their opening encounter saw them take on RGS Newcastle. After falling behind early from an opposition penalty, Hampton strived to assert themselves. Captain Ethan Knight set the tone, with a driving run allowing Connor Cross to kick for touch. From the resulting lineout, Hampton mauled their way deep into the Newcastle 22. The forwards bombarded the opposition defence and, when Tabz Makanza recycled the ball to Alfie Simmonds-Gooding, he was able to crash over. A Cross conversion enabled Hampton to take a four-point lead into half time.
Hampton continued their dominance into the second half, with the unabating power of the forwards creating a plethora of chances. After several phases of prolonged pressure, the ball was fed to Knight. Jinking past one hapless defender, the centre touched down beneath the posts.
Hampton’s superiority began to dissipate, leaving them vulnerable to the Newcastle offence. A long passage of attack saw the opposition edge ever closer to the Hampton try line, the First XV’s resistance finally broke as the opposition centre avoided a tackle to take the winning margin down to four points.
A nervy final few minutes ensued, yet the Hampton defence resolutely repelled each Newcastle endeavour. The First XV’s potency from set pieces glimmered once more as a steal from an opposition lineout made the game safe. With the final score 14-10, it was clear Hampton’s forward dynamism would be key to their success.
Hampton 10-5 Cheltenham College
Hampton continued their promising form into their second group game. After Cross was unable to convert a difficult penalty in the opening minutes, the First XV were again dominant from lineouts. Forcing a penalty from one, Cross kicked for an attacking set piece. Another maul followed, with Makanza driving the ball forward all the way to the line, earning Hampton an early try.
Cheltenham struggled to find any fluidity in the opening half, so adept was Hampton’s control of the game’s tempo, quashing any forays into their 22.
Hampton maintained their lead into the second half, playing with more intent than in their game against Newcastle. A powerful run from Neo Sukhraj- Hammerl was testament to this, gliding past multiple defenders down the wing. Play recycled to the centre of the pitch with Hampton denied a try by an alleged double movement.
This decision sparked renewed Cheltenham vigour. Hampton’s disciplined defence stood strong yet this was ultimately inconsequential as the opposition scored a late try. Crucially, the Cheltenham fly half was unable to convert and, after Cross made amends from his earlier penalty miss, Hampton emerged victorious.
Hampton 15-8 Hurstpierpoint College
With their place in the knockout stages assured, Hampton could top their group with a win against Hurstpierpoint College. However, these efforts were seemingly stymied when the opposition took an early lead from a penalty.
Hampton responded with a penalty of their own as Zack Gellatley confidently converted. The First XV seized hold of the game, striving to take the lead. The combination of Henry Donaldson and Makanza from lineouts seemed to be the key, catalysing a bombardment of the opposition defence which culminated in a try for Daniel Haarhoff. Gellatley duly converted.
The game’s cagey nature intensified in the second half. Hampton defended ably in key moments, and it was the brute force of that proved to be the difference. Luke McNamara finalised the victory, plucking the ball out of the air from a fizzing Cross pass and bursting through the static Hurstpierpoint defence. It finished 15-8 due to an unconverted opposition consolation try, leaving Hampton top of their group. After an unbeaten Day 1, potential glory beckoned in Day 2.
Cup QF: Hampton 3-14 Brighton College
A physical game from the outset, Hampton sought to pin Brighton inside their own half. This aggressive strategy immediately saw success as Cross scored a straightforward penalty.
Neither team were able to exert decisive influence on the game, with the Hampton lineout blunted by furtive steals from the Brighton defence.
However, in the second half, the momentum oscillated the way of the opposition, a brave charge down allowing them to convert the first try of the match. The wind, whipping across the pitch, lead to errors on both sides and, despite the Hampton’s valiant efforts to reassert themselves, Brighton launched a bruising maul and were able to muscle across the Hampton try line.
Ultimately overpowered by a powerful Brighton outfit, a disappointing defeat left Hampton in the Plate contest, with silverware still a possibility.
Plate SF: Hampton 0-0 Dulwich College (Hampton winners after penalties)
Against the always dangerous Dulwich College, Hampton sought to recover from their stinging loss in the previous game. A game of few opportunities, the First XV defended unwaveringly, although they were unable to penetrate the opposition defence going forward.
A late penalty, with Cross rested, fell to Knight. However, his effort agonisingly struck the post and ricocheted out, leaving the game pointless after the first half.
Another disjointed half followed and, as both teams cancelled each other out, the game remained without score.
As the minutes waned, a clever tap and go led to sustained Dulwich pressure. However, the bulwark of black and gold executed tackle after tackle to keep the game at 0-0. The final whistle sounded, and a penalty shootout beckoned.
Both sides calmly converted their opening efforts. Dulwich’s second attempt hit the post but fell between the sticks. Despite this, Cross maintained Hampton’s perfect record and, when the opposition decisively scuffed their next penalty, Max Leman put the Hampton ahead. After Dulwich were again unable to convert, Hampton secured a berth in the Plate final.
Plate Final: Hampton 3-10 Kirkham Grammar School
The tournament had entered its latter stages and the First XV had a chance at silverware against a physical Kirkham side. Hampton started the better team and a high tackle on Nico Luckman earned a difficult opportunity for Cross who narrowly missed the resulting penalty.
Kirkham’s lack of discipline was hurting them, another penalty allowing Hampton to look for the corner. The First XV, perpetually threatening from lineouts, forced a mistake from the opposition as Donaldson was tackled on the way down. Cross dissected the uprights to give Hampton a 3-0 lead.
Hampton’s dominance, however, sadly subsided and a combination of muscle and deft offloading saw Kirkham pressure their defence. Ardent defending held up the ball to prevent one try, yet the opposition’s powerful forwards would not be kept at bay for long, earning their team a try.
Kirkham’s grip on the game was steadfast and Hampton’s attacking impetus was disrupted by unforced errors. A big hit from Luckman instilled some fight into the team yet any momentum was quickly quelled by the unassailable Kirkham defences.
Falling to a 3-10 defeat, Hampton fell excruciatingly short of Plate success, yet were ultimately outdone by two physical sides. However, with forward dynamism and capable running propelling them to a flawless group stage run, the First XV can take many positives from the tournament into the remainder of the season.