Exeter come within a whisker of winning silverware
Monday 31 March 2014
Thanks to Oliver Puckup from the Telegraph for the game write-up
Trent College came from behind against Exeter College to secure their maiden success in the Under-18 NatWest Schools Cup Vase on Saturday, and held on to win 17-16 after a gutsy second-half performance in a cracker of a final at Twickenham.
In a brilliant climax, the result was in doubt right until the last kick, as a late Exeter try meant that their talented captain Billy Searle had the chance to win the silverware with a conversion from the right-hand touch line.
Sadly for him and his side – and the hundreds fans who had made the trip from Devon – his effort, while on target, was not hit with enough power and dropped agonisingly short.
"I just tried to stay calm, keep my head down – I hit it well but unfortunately it was not there," said the skipper afterwards in the bowels of Twickenham after the match, with an understandably gloomy disposition, having watched Trent lift the trophy. "I'm so gutted.
"I think we eased off five minutes before the end of the first half, thinking we were already there. It was a great final, and really intense, and I enjoyed it a lot. Obviously it would have been even more special had we won, but it wasn't to be. It was awesome to play at Twickenham – one of the best experiences I've ever had. We did the 200 travelling supporters proud."
The game was finely poised at the break, with Exeter College with their noses slightly in front, leading 8-7. But two tries in the second period saw the boys in blue from Nottinghamshire home.
Exeter fly-half Searle was pulling the strings for his side, and proved very inventive with ball in hand and also with his left boot, which he used to chip the ball short and long to good effect. The teenager showed he had an excellent rugby brain, and it was his call to punt for the lineout in the left-hand corner rather than go for the three points after 15 minutes.
It paid off when, from the resulting rolling maul, blindside flanker Ross Watts was able to cross the whitewash. Searle, with chalk on his boots out on the touchline, wrapped his foot around the conversion attempt – and it had the distance – but it was dragged to the left of the uprights.
The stand-off did extend Exeter's lead in the 23rd minute, however, with a penalty, taking them 8-0 up.
Trent showed great character to come back, though, and set the Exeter alarm bells ringing five minutes before the end of the first half. Full-back Gabriel Calland was short with his penalty attempt, but soon afterwards lock James Benstead was able to reach over from close range. Calland made no mistake with the conversion, and it proved vital that he gained his side those two extra points.
Seven minutes after the break a Searle penalty took Exeter 11-7 ahead, but Trent hit back and, for the first time in the match, went in to the lead through Ashley Britton's try. The outside centre finished off a neat move, and was found following good quick hands by flanker William Allman and then Calland.
In the last couple of minutes captain Ben Trembling powered over in the left-hand corner after unrelenting pressure, but Exeter hit back almost immediately through substitute James Newman, though the replacement back will have regretted not dotting down closer to the posts, as the conversion proved too difficult for his captain, Searle.
The Trent team and supporters, hushed while Searle lined up his kick and managed a good connection, erupted when they realised it was short bringing to a close a brilliant finale.
With a blooded lip and an almost stupefied grin, No8 Trembling, who proved himself a superb leader, was immensely proud to lift the Vase at the scintillating game's conclusion. "It's an absolutely brilliant feeling," he said, clutching his winners' medal. "I've dreamt of this day but didn't really think it would happen. Even last night. We knew we had a really big chance but when the final whistle went it was phenomenal."Trembling and his Trent teammates certainly deserve a knees up, though the Exeter side can console themselves with the fact that they put in a brilliant show, befitting of a classic final.