The Natwest School's Cup

Winning the NatWest School’s Cup was no less than the perfect end to an incredible season for the Year 10 Rugby team. Whilst managing to win all but one of our friendlies, we also fought back tough opposition to lift the national trophy at the home of English rugby, Twickenham.

The Journey To Twickenham

Our National Cup campaign began with a narrow away loss to Lord William’s School, with a final score of 23-34. This meant that we were seeded into the NatWest School’s Vase competition, a similar competition in which we hoped we could get further.

Preparing to kick - Isaac Shenoy, Year 11

Our first Vase game was at home against a reasonably local team from Parmiter’s School, Garston. Having stamped our authority on the game early on, we continued to dominate for the rest of the game, finishing with a brilliant win of 64-7.

Following our win against Parmiter’s, we faced The Windsor Boy’s School, again playing at home. Windsor sent a strong outfit who were clearly aiming to cause an upset. By half time the Challoner’s team were managing to lead narrowly, with a score of 5-0. However, despite the initially tight lead, a strong second half performance secured another convincing win for Challoner’s, winning 35-5. Tries were scored by Huey Chadwick, Ed Griffiths, James Tunney and Richard Dean with three conversions by Monty Weatherall.

The next game saw the team be drawn against Reading School, a good side who’d beaten us last year. However, we tried not to be phased by this, and put in a fantastic performance in order to win 46-0. Tries were scored by Jake Wilkins, Blake Morris, Ed Griffiths, Zac Collingbourne with two and Huey Chadwick with two. Monty Weatherall added three conversions.

Reach up for the... ball - Jai Daurka, Year 8

Our next opponents were Desborough College - a team that the Challoner’s boys were simply too strong for. Incredibly, we overcame their squad with ease to win 50-0. Tries were scored by Charlie Lee, Ollie Anderson, Richard Dean, Zac Collingbourne, Huey Chadwick, Blake Morris and Monty Weatherall, who also added 5 conversions.

The next game was away and set to be a big one, with the team facing Dauntsey’s College - an independent school tucked away in the heart of Wiltshire. Even after a two and a bit hour journey, we started furiously, with a number of early tries, to get to 26-0 up at half time. During the second half, a strong defensive performance secured the 31-0 win. This meant that we’d made the last 16 in the country, and the regional final. The tries against Dauntsey’s were scored by Blake Morris, James Tunney, Richard Dean, Jake Wilkins and Monty Weatherall, adding 3 conversions too.

Fly half Monty Weatherall - Isaac Shenoy, Year 11

The regional final: Challoner's vs. Clifton College

Reaching the regional final, and being one of the last sixteen teams in the country, was already a big achievement but we definitely weren’t planning on giving up now. Our opponents were Clifton College and we met them on a synthetic 3G pitch, located in a fantastic sports facility. Fighting against the driving rain we started strongly with hard tackles and a good line speed was set. Sid Dey particularly stood out as hungry for tackles, after a knee operation meant this was his first game in a while.

The Challoner’s team secured the lead early on, after a good team movement allowed them to get close to the line. Fly half Monty Weatherall, with strong support from his teammates, bundled over the line to give the first try. Unfortunately missing the conversion, Challoner’s kept our slender 5-0 lead over Clifton, who attacked relentlessly. The back three played fantastically well, operating in the equally relentless rain. Somehow, whatever our opponents threw at us, we could find an answer to. A penalty kick from Monty Weatherall meant the score was 8-0 at half time.

Coming out fighting in the second half, Challoner’s put their foot on the pedal. James Tunney, Daniel Peters and Joe Long were exceptional carriers in each attack. By the end, we secured a 32-0 win, a great result for the team. The tries were scored by James Tunney (with two), Huey Chadwick, Richard Dean (with an outstanding try, beating a number of defenders with sublime footwork) and Monty Weatherall, also successfully kicking two conversions and a penalty. This win was a momentous event in its own right for Challoner’s rugby – doing something that no Challoner’s team ever had by winning the regional competition and reaching the last eight teams in the country.

Challoner's on the attack - Jai Daurka, Year 8

The draw

As the competition heated up, we had to wait to find out who our next opponents were. The draw was to be streamed live on air from Twickenham at 12:15. We nervously waited for the school’s name to be pulled up, by England rugby legends past, Rob Andrew, and present, Jonny May. The waiting was over as Challoner’s was pulled out fourth, meaning we were to play Manchester Grammar School in our next game!

The quarterfinal: Challoner's vs. Manchester Grammar School

Our quarterfinal game was played the following week at Burnage RFC, on another special 3G pitch. After a four hour coach journey (and a brief stop at services where we ran into the Manchester Grammar School water polo team!), we arrived at Burnage about an hour and a half before kickoff. The damp but firm underfoot conditions suited the team’s open running playing style. As usual, the team started well, with a period of sustained pressure on Manchester. However, our opponents defended very well. Finally, the Challoner’s squad found an overlap towards the left side – this was successfully exploited and put Blake Morris' flawless finishing skills to good use. Monty Weatherall added the conversion and put Challoner’s 7-0 ahead.

However, despite our best defensive efforts, Manchester Grammar School played well to spread the ball wide, and scored in the corner. Fortunately, the conversion was missed, keeping Challoner’s, albeit narrow, lead of 7-5. Some good carries and defensive turnovers kept the pressure on and, after a break from James Tunney, Morris was once again able to score in the corner. Monty Weatherall kicked well to add a conversion from the touch line, on a tight angle, to make the score 14-5. With the clock ticking, Dom Goodman performed his signature steal to award Challoner’s a penalty near the left hand side of the posts. Weatherall kicked successfully to give Challoner’s a reassuring 17-5 lead at half time.

As the second half began, a tweet from Mr Deadman summed up the play: tense. Manchester added a lot of pressure and at one point proved too strong for our defence, scoring to the right of the posts. The kick was missed again so Challoner’s kept a seven-point lead of 17-10. Conceding a try was seemingly just what we needed to give ourselves a boost as we instantly kicked on to win a penalty just off the ten metre line. Weatherall lined it up and kicked well to give the team a ten-point cushion. Matt Bellamy came on as a replacement 9 and supplied solid second phase ball to Tunney, ploughing over to score. The emotion was clear as Challoner’s celebrated this try. Missing out on a conversion, the score was 25-10. As the Challoner’s substitutes kept the standard high, we were awarded a penalty as a result of a punch being thrown and red card issued to a MGS player. This led to Monty Weatherall adding three more just before the whistle went! This critical win meant that the team had reached Allianz Park (the home of Saracens) for the first time in the school’s history.

Throw in - Jai Daurka, Year 8

The semifinal: Challoner's vs. Bridgewater High School

Reaching the semifinals of the competition was an incredible achievement for the team, but the following game’s opponents were Bridgewater High School, a formidable side who looked tough to beat on paper and a team who would surely bring Challoner’s good game. This game meant the chance to stay close to the stadium at a hotel overnight. We met in the late afternoon, and after a short half hour on the coach, we were ushered a plush team meeting room at the hotel. Before a hearty dinner, Mr Duggan, our coach, expressed the importance of a good night’s sleep and good nutrition.

The next day we woke up at around seven in order to get to the grounds for our team photo before the match. The game kicked off at 11 o’clock, with Challoner’s starting as the stronger side. Around three minutes in, Blake Morris ran down the left wing - in front of roughly 500 Challoner’s staff and parents - to almost score in the corner. Using our strong back line, we managed to put Ollie Anderson into the corner for the first try. Monty Weatherall kicked brilliantly to get a conversion, from a tight angle on the right hand touchline. Challoner’s continued to attack Bridgewater High, and were rewarded for our efforts at fourteen minutes, when Huey Chadwick crossed into the right hand corner for our second try. Once again, Weatherall converted from a tight angle to put Challoner’s ahead 14-0.

However, during the last fifteen minutes of the first half, Challoner’s found themselves under pressure with some tough attacks from the Bridgewater High forwards. Even after some valiant defence, the inevitable happened and Bridgewater crossed for their first try. On the stroke of half-time, Weatherall kicked a long range penalty to move Challoner’s lead ahead to 17-7. Mr Duggan’s half time message was clear: do not let Bridgewater play, and try to wrestle the control of the game back from the opposition.

Mr Duggan and Mr Pontin - Isaac Shenoy, Year 11

We started the second half all guns blazing, with a pin point crossfield kick from Weatherall, caught fantastically by Tunney to put him in the corner for his first try. Again Weatherall added a conversion from the touchline. Fantastic defensive play from Ollie Anderson, in particular, who showed fantastic strength to push Bridgewater High back fifteen metres, allowing Matt Bellamy to steal the ball and pass it to Jake Wilkins. This let the powerful hooker go over for his first try. Weatherall's radar started to flicker, missing a considerably simpler chance to add the extra two. Still we kept the pressure on and, after some fantastic counter-attack play Ed Griffiths, crossed into the corner to add another five points onto our total. In the final five minutes, sublime play from centre Richard Dean and prop Sid Dey gave Tunney a chance, scoring under the posts. Naturally, Weatherall added the extra two. Bridgewater's incredible efforts did not go unrewarded as they scored in the last five minutes, making the final score a remarkable 41-14 to Challoner’s. Mr Duggan gave a brief interview to the cameras and the boys were allowed to go and show their gratitude for all of the fantastic support that we received that day.

The national final:

Challoner's vs. Sir Thomas Rich's Grammar School

We had reached the national final, an incredible achievement, meaning a whole school trip - in 21 coaches - to the famous Twickenham Stadium. This, as you can imagine, was a logistical nightmare especially as the game turned into an international affair with Spanish exchange students also invited to watch before they flew home later that day! We arrived with our game faces on and, as we walked through the Lion’s Gate entrance (where England famously enter the stadium), we were met by a crowd of parents.

With two minutes left until kickoff, the Challoner’s team lined up in the tunnel, waiting to run out into the awe-inspiring location. We were greeted with a huge roar from the crowd as we ran out and took our position in a huddle. Knowing that the whole school was looking on, as we played this final game, was both invigorating and nerve-wracking.

We came together for final words before kickoff.

Isaac Shenoy, Year 11

Video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/0w4Z5c_ZVSM

The team started strongly, pushing back a brief storm from our opponents, Sir Thomas Rich's Grammar School. Then Challoner’s saw an opportunity to counter attack, creating an opportunity for three points with a kick from fly half, Monty Weatherall. With a huge crowd looking on, Monty showed signs of nerves as he hooked it slightly to miss narrowly. However, the team didn’t let this hold them back as Challoner’s settled into a good rhythm, with the support of the whole school in the stand. James Tunney scored a brilliant try in the corner after 12 minutes before Weatherall, pushing nerves aside, kicked well from the touchline to add an extra two points, giving Challoner’s a seven points lead.

After Challoner’s conceded a penalty, Sir Thomas Rich's fly half kicked well to gain three points for the opposing side. The score was now 7-3 to Dr Challoner’s. Our side kept applying pressure, until a beautifully timed pass from Weatherall saw Tunney break the line and, putting in some good footwork, score under the posts. The crowd were ecstatic, and fantastic performances from Ed Griffiths, Sid Dey, Jake Wilkins and Daniel Peters ensured that Challoner’s kept dominating. The Challoner’s back line all brought their A game with Zac Collingbourne and Richard Dean combining well too, and often supplying Morris with a lot of space out wide. Ollie Anderson and Huey Chadwick were playing superbly at the back to mop up stray kicks from opponents.

M Weatherall taking a kick - Jai Daurka, Year 8

The message from Mr Duggan at half time was to continue applying pressure and dominating. However, as the second half started, the Tommies came out all guns blazing, meaning that Challoner’s had to defend strongly to weather the storm. Prop Sid Dey was sent to the bin for repeated offences around the breakdown. Inevitably, the gates opened and the Tommies scored under the post to make the score 14-10 to DCGS. Knowing we had to fight back, a quick out of jail move from Chadwick meant that James Tunney scored, off a scrum, for his last in a fantastic hat trick. This culminated Tunney’s truly outstanding man of the match performance, showing that he certainly has a bright future in the game.

As time slipped away, Challoner’s successfully defended a last push from Sir Thomas Rich’s. Eventually, as Weatherall and Dean wrestled the opponent’s left winger into touch, the final whistle was blown for a Challoner’s win! As we watched the whole school celebrate around Twickenham Stadium, everything seemed to fall into place. After walking up through the crowds, the lifting of the trophy was a very emotional experience for players, supporters, staff and parents alike.

The team would like to thank Mr Duggan, Mr Pontin and Mr Deadman for their invaluable coaching throughout the season. It’s been an incredible season, and it makes me very proud that Challoner’s has found national glory in a rugby tournament, and is now firmly stated as a top grammar school for rugby.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/cNkSGkctTCE

(coverage of the match begins at 03:06)