Junior 1st XV progress to AASE League Grand Final in
Hartpury College Junior 1st XV booked their place in the AASE League Grand Final in stunning fashion as they won 46-8 at the home of the winners of the Southern Conference, Twyford C of E High School. Twyford are one of only two sides in the competition that have their AASE programme delivered exclusively by the professional club with whom they are associated, London Wasps in the case of Twyford, making them essentially a Wasps Academy team. The manner in which Hartpury claimed victory against such a side will instil nothing but great confidence heading into the competition’s final on Wednesday 28th April. There they will meet the sole team still standing between them and the AASE League Championship, Ivybridge Community College.
Ivybridge defeated Hartpury’s fellow Northern Conference side Moulton College 19-8 in the other semi-final, and it is doubtless that they will provide a huge test for Hartpury. If the match is even half as good as January’s friendly between the two teams, which Hartpury won 20-19 in Devon, the watching crowd at Henley Hawks RFC are in for a fantastic spectacle. Hartpury travelled to West London in good shape, on the back of two big wins before Easter and with just one player sidelined through injury, the unfortunate flanker Alex Woodburn. They knew that they were up against a strong Twyford outfit, who were unbeaten at home in the group stage thanks largely to a miserly defence that only conceded more than seven points in a single home game once. Playing with the wind, Hartpury undoubtedly had the best of the early stages, dominating possession albeit without really threatening the try line as they came up against a well-organised wall of gold shirts. Ryan Mills had the opportunity to open the scoring with a penalty after six minutes, but he pushed his shot narrowly wide from way out. His England teammate Dan Robson missed with an attempted drop goal soon after, before Mills finally got the scoreboard rolling on the ten-minute mark with a penalty in front of the posts following a breakdown infringement by Twyford. Five minutes later, Mills doubled Hartpury’s advantage with his second penalty after the opposing front row stood up under pressure in the scrum. The Twyford rearguard was holding firm, much to the delight of the watching Wasps and Wales coach Shaun Edwards, but it was eventually breached after twenty-three minutes. Mills located a rare hole around the fringe of a ruck, which he burst through and stormed up the field, and although his kick ahead ended up going into touch in the corner, the home side’s defence was creaking. The Twyford hooker seemed to be feeling the pressure as Rob Langley pinched his throw from the resulting lineout, allowing the Hartpury forwards to build up the pressure further.
They were desperately close to scoring on several occasions, and eventually an overlap appeared on the left-hand side and Langley finished off well in the corner, Mills’ superb conversion making the score 13-0. Twyford had some pressure of their own, which gave Hartpury the opportunity to demonstrate their defensive nous, but it was the visitors who grabbed a critical try just two minutes before the break. Mills’ bizarre attempted drop goal from sixty metres turned out well for Hartpury, as it sailed right down into the corner where it was sliced into touch by a Twyford player. The visitors secured the ball at the lineout and drove it on, before the ball was sent wide and into the hands of centre Harry Sanders, who powered through two tackles for his fourth try of the season, converted by Mills. With Hartpury twenty points up heading into the interval, they had a right to feel positive about the second period, despite their opponents hitting back with a penalty in what was the final act of the half. 20-3 down but now with the wind at their backs, Twyford knew that they had to score early to stand a chance of getting back into the game, and they set about their task immediately. They camped themselves inside the Hartpury 22 and chipped away at the sturdy defence, until they found themselves just inches from the line. A score looked inevitable until the visitors’ defensive graft saw them turn the ball over, and all players lined up for the clearance kick. Not content with the conventional way out, Ryan Mills spotted an overlap on the left, where he swung the ball out to Dan Robson. Robson made twenty metres himself before handing the ball on to Ian Clark, who used his electric pace to leave two defenders for dead and finish an outstanding counter attack from eighty metres, Mills converting to make the score a healthy 27-3. It was a real body blow to the Wasps apprentices, but they persevered and they were rewarded with an unconverted try following a series of scrums after fifteen minutes of the second half. The game was effectively killed off just over sixty seconds later, though, as number eight Gareth Evans scored the visitors’ fourth five-pointer of the day. A sniping break from Robson brought Hartpury into the 22, and, for a moment, it looked like he would go all the way himself. Twyford managed to haul him down, but the visiting pack was quickly on the scene to recycle the ball. The last person that you would expect to give the crucial scoring pass was replacement prop Jimmy Litchfield, but he did exactly that as his fine pass eliminated three defenders from the equation and put Evans in the clear to run in from ten metres. With the score at 32-8, the home side’s players tiring and the Hartpury players’ enthusiasm increasing by the minute, there were bound to be further tries in store, and the next one arrived on the hour mark.
The away team were awarded a scrum on the right hand side inside the 22 after a big carry by Alex Hughes, and a move straight off the training ground saw Ryan Brend fall inches short after another superb tackle. They could do nothing to stop Rob Langley, however, as the second row was on hand to collect and stretch over the try line using the full length of his arm, converted by Mills for another seven points. Hartpury still had one more in their locker, and Ian Clark did the honours as the Gloucestershire side crossed the forty-point mark for the fifth time in the last six games. They were awarded a penalty forty metres out as the Londoners desperately tried to slow their opponents down and Rory Kettlewell’s quick thinking kept the momentum going. He spun the ball wide from his tapped penalty and it moved along the back line to Clark, who skinned his opposite number and dotted down for another converted try to round off a wonderful day for the Junior 1st XV.
Assistant Junior Academy Director Barry Maddocks was full of praise for the players. “I thought the boys played exceptionally well, they stuck to the structure that we have worked on all season,” he said. “The pack in particular was outstanding, they controlled the game from the off. They kept it nice and tight and didn’t give anything away.” However, Maddocks remained wary of the threat posed by Ivybridge, however, and warned the boys not to get carried away. “Ivybridge is going to be a tough game, we expect them to be as physical as they were in January,” he explained. “We will have to raise the level of performance again for that game. We should be proud of how we played in this game, but we have to focus in training and reproduce this on Wednesday.”
Squad: 1 Taylor, 2 Tanner, 3 Heard, 4 Langley (2t), 5 Clutterbuck, 6 Casson, 7 Spencer, 8 Evans (1t), 9 Kettlewell, 10 Robson, 11 Clark (2t),
12 Stringwell, 13 Harry Sanders (1t), 14 Brend, 15 Mills (captain, 5c, 2p), 16 Madge (Taylor), 17 Tom Sanders (Tanner), 18 Litchfield (Heard),
19 Hughes (Casson), 20 Ailes (Spencer), 21 Auton (Harry Sanders), 22 Price (Clark).
Man of the Match: Gareth Evans
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