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 on Saturday.
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, Trent settled quickly and enjoyed the lion’s share of the pressure in the early exchanges, but Exeter soon got a foothold and a Ross Watts try and Searle penalty saws them 8-0 ahead.
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 five metres out, Searle took the opportunity to extend Exeter’s lead to 11-7.
The turning point in the game came ten minutes later, however, when Trent got their noses in front for the first time. Having spent ten 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, Trent eventually hanging on.
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.