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Trent College were crowned 2014 U18 NatWest Vase champions in the most dramatic fashion as they clinched a nail-biting 17-16 victory over Exeter College at Twickenham today (Saturday 29 March).
Ben Trembling’s late try had handed Trent a six-point lead heading into injury time, and it looked like it would take something special to stop Trent claiming silverware on their first ever appearance in a NatWest Schools' Cup competition final.
But when Exeter’s James Newman scored at the death to reduce arrears to one point, Trent were left thankful that fly-half, Billy Searle, couldn’t land the conversion that would have won Exeter the game with the last kick, cuing mass celebrations on the pitch and touchline as the referee blew the final whistle.
“I’ve never been involved in a finish like that, it was my first and hopefully my last!” said Trent College Head Coach, Guy Hope, immediately after the final whistle. “This is a superb achievement, but full credit to Exeter too, they played exceptionally well.”
In a pulsating encounter at the home of England rugby, Trent settled quickly and enjoyed the lion’s share of the pressure in the early exchanges. But Exeter gradually found a foothold in the game and took advantage as a Ross Watts try and Searle penalty handed the West Country school an 8-0 advantage with 20 minutes played.
Backed by over 300 very vocal supporters who had made the trip from Long Eaton, Trent refused to panic and when lock James Benstead, Trent’s youngest player at 15, went under the posts for his third try in two games – which full-back Gabriel Calland converted – the tide turned back in Trent’s favour and they ended the half on top, with winger Zach Gundry unlucky not to add to the scoring just before the break.
Protecting a slender 8-7 lead, Exeter came out all guns blazing after half-time, putting Trent’s defence under immense strain. When flanker Will Allman was penalised 5m out, Searle took the opportunity to extend Exeter’s lead to 11-7.
The turning point in the game came 10 minutes later, however, when Trent got their noses in front for the first time. Having spent 10 minutes camped in Exeter’s 22, scintillating play through the backs set centre Ashley Britton away to score.
Now leading 12-11, Trent seized on the momentum with fly-half George Boden, Greg Fieldhouse and Gundry in particular carving out numerous opportunities that the Exeter defence did well to repel.
That defence could only hold out for so long though, and when captain Trembling spotted a gap and showed incredible determination to get over the line with one minute of normal time remaining, the trophy looked Trent bound, until nerves were frayed as Exeter hit back in the dying seconds.
Captain Trembling said: “We’ve known all season we’ve got character in abundance and we showed it again today. It’s been easy leading these boys; they are phenomenal. This is all down to the 22 boys in the squad and the coaching staff.
On his try he added: “Scoring at Twickenham was unbelievable. I saw a gap open up, me against the winger about five yards out, and I just thought I’ve got to get there. It took everything from me but it was brilliant to score what was the winning try.”
Benstead who put Trent’s first points of the afternoon on the board said: “I just saw the ball, picked it up, saw the line and went over. There was never any doubt in my mind I wasn’t going to get it over. I’m speechless and so tired! Adrenaline got us through at the end; we were out on our feet but spilling blood for each other.”
Fly-half and vice-captain, George Boden, and Britton, scorer of the pivotal second Trent try, were equally emotional after the game. And Boden revealed that although Exeter did manage to force an injury time try, it was a game plan Trent had worked on all season that got them over the finish line.
Boden said: “We managed to force them wide for that last try. If they got past us it had to be wide, no one was to go through the middle, and both their tries came out wide, which made ultimately made the difference. It really showed the desire to win. As soon as the final whistle went I was holding back the tears. It was such an emotional finish and you can’t imagine what it’s like until you’ve been part of it.”
Britton added: “I felt ecstatic scoring at Twickenham, I’ve never had that feeling before, all that excitement running through my blood, I just wanted to score again and get the team to victory. We had a lot of opportunities that didn’t quite come off but we kept our heads up and kept it simple, which has been our focus all season.”
The NatWest Schools Cup competition is the premier tournament in schools rugby. 1,000 teams, at U15 and U18 level, enter the competition. All schools that enter play for a main Cup, and there is also a Vase for teams knocked out in the early rounds.
A host of England and British Lions stars have played in the Natwest Schools’ Cup in the past including England captain Chris Robshaw, scrum-half Danny Care, centre Manu Tuilagi, flanker James Haskell, and forwards Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes.
For more information about Trent College visit www.trentcollege.net
Trent College: 1 Oliver George, 2 Alex Taylor, 3 James Fish, 4 James Benstead, 5 Angus Low, 6 Will Garland (Livesey, 50), 7 Will Allman, 8 Ben Trembling, 9 Max Johnson, 10 George Boden, 11 Lewis Seagrave, 12 Greg Fieldhouse, 13 Ashley Britton, 14 Zach Gundry, 15 Gabriel Calland. Replacements: 16 Will Farmer, 17 Alistair McHugh, 18 Harry Wilkinson, 19 George Livesey, 20 Dan Van Helden, 21 Matt Brown, 22 Oliver Davidson