Whitgift regained the English schools’ rugby title at Twickenham yesterday, as the South Croydon independent school’s first XV won the NatWest Schools’ Cup final 32-22 against defending champions Warwick School.
It is the third time that Whitgift have won the under-18s national title, and follows the final victory of their under-15s team last year.
With Warwick going for a hat-trick of under-18 cup final wins, Whitgift produced a cracker of a performance – some might say a Ritz cracker…
Whitgift made the perfect start with captain Oliver Norris charging down a Warwick kick before collecting it and scoring inside the first two minutes. Ben Fitzgerald converted to make it 7-0.
After playing for 10 minutes with 14 men following a yellow card, Warwick took a lead to 14-10 thanks to two converted tries, while Whitgift’s only additional points came from a Fitzgerald penalty. Just before half-time, though, Whitgift fly-half Ed Dunford made a sensational break before off-loading to Charlie Beckett to score.
FifteenRugby, the schools rugby website, described it thus: “It all came from the sheer brilliance of Ed Dunford, the Whitgift fly half who has playing like Finn Russell, all fizz and imagination.”
At 15-14 at the start of the second-half, Whitgift really turned on the afterburners, the Londoners producing what the RFU described as “Harlem Globetrotters-style rugby”.
Dunford freed full-back Fitzgerald, who produced the acceleration and side-step to cause havoc in the Warwick line. A couple of basketball-style passed out of tackles later, and scrum-half Tom Berger went over for the try. Fitzgerald slotted the kick to bring the score to 22-14.
Warwick pegged back a penalty, and Whitgift went down to 14 players for the second time in the game when Fitzgerald was sent to the sin bin with 15 minutes left. Warwick once again made them pay, levelling the scores with a try.
Whitgift held their nerve from the kick off, working their way to Warwick’s line before prop forward Aristot Benz-Solomon – a member of Warlingham rugby club’s academy – showed his impressive strength to score. Dunford converted the try to give his side a seven-point lead with 10 minutes left, and Fitzgerald confirmed the win slotting a late penalty to make it 32-22 before the final whistle.
Fifteen Rugby was effusive in its praise for the spectacle provided. “Both sides were simply outstanding, contributing to easily one of the best U18 Schools Cup finals in this tournament’s history…. Whitgift were just stunning at times, like Warwick they were tested throughout and had to show some deep moments of courage, but in amongst that there were some moments of utter genius and sublime skill.
“… A quite brilliant group of players, and a stunningly courageous, characterful, and unbelievably skilled performance.”
It made for a dizzying moment as Norris – the son of Whitgift’s assistant head and under-15s coach Adrian Norris – went up to collect the NatWest Trophy. Eight years earlier, young Oliver, before he had joined the school, had been in the crowd with the Whitgift supporters to see the likes of Marland Yarde, Lawrence Okoye and Elliot Daly go up to collect the cup after the 2011 final.
And Daly was quick to send his congratulations (by Twitter, naturally) to the class of 2019. “Make sure you enjoy tonight,” the Wasps and England full-back said.
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