THE GRAMMAR School at Leeds Under-18s rugby union team are eyeing a fairy-tale national success to provide the perfect end to their school rugby careers.
Three years on from their national cup-winning ways they enjoyed as Under-15s, GSAL’s Under-18s side will play in next Wednesday’s final of the inaugural Under-18s Schools Champions Trophy against Millfield School at Allianz Park.
With most team members now in the Upper Sixth at GSAL, the first XV is largely the same as the successful Under-15s team that lifted the RBS Daily Mail Under-15s Cup at Twickenham in 2012. And captain Sam Ward admits his side are relishing the prospect of finishing on the ultimate high.
The Champions Trophy is a new Under-18s competition introduced by the RFU and its schools arm, the England Rugby Football Schools Union (ERFSU). This year’s pilot involved 32 teams from England’s top rugby playing schools and the competition is completed in the autumn term, freeing up talented players to fulfil playing commitments for club, academy and country in the new year. The GSAL team booked their place in the Champions Trophy final after an exciting 29-15 semi-final victory played at GSAL against Barnard Castle School.
The final will be played at Allianz Park, the new home of Saracens Rugby Club, and skipper Ward is counting down the days to what he hopes will be a dream conclusion.
“Going into our last year of playing as a team it’s great to finish on such a high,” said Ward. “It will be exciting to play at such a prestigious venue and on a 4G pitch – whatever the weather we expect a great experience. Like any final, we are expecting a hard game, against a physical and well-skilled team.”
In the semi-final, GSAL’s Tom Gorman, who represents Yorkshire Carnegie Academy and was named Player of the Month for September by Rugby World Magazine, got the team off to a flying start by scoring the first try. Minutes later team captain Ward, who plays hooker, extended the lead to 12-0. Barnard Castle came back with a penalty and a converted try, but GSAL raised the tempo to establish a half-time lead of 22-10.
Handling was difficult in the second half, however GSAL took an unassailable 19- point lead with a converted try through winger Chris Bridge. Fighting to the last, Barnard Castle eventually capitalised on their good possession in the second half to score a try in the final minutes of the match and close the score at 29-15.
Ward added: “Considering the muddy conditions we had a good game in the semi-final. Our impressive defence in the second half kept them from scoring again until the very end.”
Team coach John MacKenzie, head of rugby at GSAL, added: “It has been a pleasure working with this group of players in the senior squad, many of whom I recall as Under-11s. For many the experiences of Twickenham three years ago remain at the forefront of their minds, as winning the RBS Daily Mail Under-15s Cup was an outstanding achievement.
“Since then the group of players have grown and matured, and so it is hugely satisfying that they have successfully made the transition to 1st XV rugby and remained so strong; both cohesively and in terms of rugby ability. The final versus Millfield School is certain to be another experience to remember!”
The Grammar School at Leeds 1st XV: Alex Roney; Harry Francis; Joe Waind; Dominic Hardman; Simon Phillips; Max Kay; Gianni Singh; Jack Richmond; Abhijeet Oswal; Harry Bolser; Luke Powderly; Tom Megson; Will Newett; Will Shepherd; Robert Dunn; Will Priestley; Jake Mitchell; Will Barker; Jonathan Webster; Harry Mawer; Sam Ward; Chris Bridge; Harrison Brown Raw; Jonathan Haslem; Gerard Ellis; Tom Gorman.