The 1st VII enjoyed one of their best days at the Surrey U18 7s Tournament, reaching the semi final of the Cup. An invitational competition with the likes of Wellington College, Millfield and a number of academy AASE colleges involved, it is one of the toughest tournaments in the country.
One of the hardest pools saw St John's pitted against Brighton College, UCS and Haileybury. St John's started at an impressive pace beating UCS 38-7, playing some very good 7s along the way (including a brace of tries each for Cameron Hyne and Joe Jelinek). The second match came almost straight afterwards against Brighton College. Games against them have always proved highly physical and very tight - this proved both of those, and more! Brighton scored early but St John's fought back via a Jack Potter try (alas he pulled his hamstring in the process which ended his tournament). Brighton then scored either side of half time to put themselves in a commanding 19-7 lead. But as was to be the case all day, St John's showed excellent mental (and physical) strength to fight their way back into the game. Tom Davison scored a crucial try (but also received a knee in the ribs which meant a trip to A&E and the end of his tournament too). 12-19 to Brighton. Time was running out and in the final moments St John's attacked once more - Jack Musk made a half break and then Jordan Bond snuck through the smallest of holes and accelerated to the line to score under the posts. Archie Dunnill kept his composure to kick the conversion to ensure it was a draw 19-19. This was a great comeback but came at the cost of losing Potter and Davison, meaning 10 players were left to 'do battle' for the remainder of the tournament. The final group game was against Haileybury. St John's went out with a determination to win the group (on points difference) - which they did in style, winning 33-7 (another brace of tries for Hyne).
This set up a last 16 encounter with one of the tournament favourites, Wellington College. It proved to be a belter of a game (and was also being streamed live meaning one or two back at school may have had their attention turned from their studies for 14 minutes!). Wellington scored two quick tries to lead 0-10 and things were looking bleak for St John's, however the aforementioned mental strength was there in bucket loads. A break by Kimball Klintworth gave Joe Jelinek half a yard of space which he exploited brilliantly as he made a break down the right before cutting inside to score a quite scintillating try under the posts (7-10). Wellington scored again just before the break to extend their lead to 7-15. But the second half was all St John's. The defence was magnificent as every tackle was made despite the force of the Wellington attack. Toby McRae put St John's back in the game with a great break down the left before heading under the posts (14-15) and he popped up again moments later to give St John's the lead with another try (21-15). A tense final few minuted remained with both sides flying in to each other before the game was sealed when Henry Stevens dived over in the corner. The boys left the field to tumultuous applause from a big crowd.
However the task came no easier as they then faced Harrow in the quarter final. With representative players galore this would be another tough task, especially with only 10 players to rotate. A similar pattern emerged as the previous game. Harrow scored early (0-7), St John's bounced back via a Dunnill try (7-7) then Harrow scored 2 quick tries to lead 7-19. The next score would be crucial and just before half time that man Mcrae popped up again to run in a try from the half way line (14-19). Jelinek then scored for St John's just after half time to give the 1st VII the lead (21-19) but Harrow were not a team to accept defeat and bounced back to score themselves (19-26). St John's dusted themselves down and scored again with Hugo Coughlan kicking a difficult conversion to regain the lead (28-26). Again an agonising last few minutes ensued with both teams fighting for the win. In the last moments Coughlan broke down the right before kicking intelligently ahead and Will Sanders scored to guarantee the win (35-26).
The semi final was against Hampton. And once again, the game followed a similar scoring pattern: Hampton scored, St John's struck back (via Kimball Klintworth), then Hampton scored 2 quick ones before the break. Although a shove in the back on Jordan Bond should have negated one of them but non communication between referee and touch judge meant the score stood. Hard lines indeed. The second half was almost all St John's and some neat footballing skills by Coughlan gave St John's hope as he dribbled and scored (and converted) - 12-15. St John's pressed and pressed in the final minutes but some poor decision making allied to some outstanding defence by Hampton saw them hold on to take the win and then proved worthy winners in the Final.
The disappointment of losing the semi should not detract from an excellent day. To play Brighton, Haileybury, Wellington, Harrow and Hampton in quick succession with only 10 fit players left in the squad was a remarkable effort and speaks volumes for the belief and talent of the boys.
All eyes now turn to the final tournament of the campaign - Rosslyn Park next week.