Trent College are 70 minutes from another Twickenham appearance as they prepare to face The Perse School, Cambridgeshire, in the semi-finals of the national U18 Natwest Vase at Allianz Park on Saturday.
The 2017 Long Eaton school squad will be hoping they can emulate the last four success of their 2014 Vase winning predecessors also at the home of reigning English Premiership and European Cup champions, Saracens, with that Trent College side recording an emphatic seven try 41-7 semi-final victory over QEH Bristol to secure their place at Twickenham and ultimately go on to lift the trophy.
One of the double try scorers that day was James Benstead, who also scored in the nail-biting 17-16 Vase final victory over Exeter College, and his younger brother Ethan is amongst the Trent College ranks this this time around looking to upset a Perse School team that has only lost once this season.
Now in its 18th year, no school has ever won the Natwest Vase twice, a feat Trent College would dearly love a shot at attempting at Twickenham on Wednesday 29 March.
But Northampton Saints Academy prospect Ethan, who watched as his brother played a lead role in Trent College’s success three years ago, knows the challenge that awaits in first trying to overcome The Perse School this weekend.
He said: “I’m very much looking forward to this game against what we know will be a strong Perse side, and I’m especially relishing the back row clash I will be engaged with with two of my Northampton Saints teammates, who will be playing for the opposition.
“What the Trent team did three years ago was phenomenal and trying to match what my brother achieved is a huge motivation. It would be nice to score, as he did against Bristol and I have some big shoes to fill in terms of the way he played. I believe our all-round game will be strong enough on the day.”
Flanker Ethan is one of five Premiership Academy players in the Trent College squad this year, with winger Emmet McDonnell and centre Charlie Livesey, whose older brother George featured in the victorious 2014 side too, also part of the Saints Academy, while Andrew Brown and Jack Dickinson are with Leicester Tigers Academy.
McDonnell is Trent College’s top try scorer this season while kicker Ben Dickinson, one of three brothers in the squad alongside his older siblings Jack and George, is the school’s top points scorer. Year 11 student Ben is also the youngest member of the team.
Steve McGinnis, Trent College Head of Rugby, joined the school after the previous Vase win. He believes the diverse mix of players in the squad has so far contributed to a winning blend.
He added: “When you look at the squad the majority of the players have interests and talents outside of their school rugby too.
“For example, Jamie Spencer Pickup is part of the England Judo Cadet Squad and recently finished in the top 10 at the Cadet European Judo Cup while Emmet is also a talented actor and played the lead role in the school production of The Crucible before Christmas.
“Meanwhile in addition to the five boys in the Saints and Tigers academies, Fred Hendry Briars and George Finney are also part of the Nottingham RC Academy with George representing the U18 Independent Lambs too. This means when they come back to their school rugby they all bring different experiences, positive and negative, they can share with the squad and we can all learn from to improve the First XV.
“We are going to have to draw on all these experiences, and those from our performances throughout the season so far, to challenge what will be a very strong Perse School side. It should be an enthralling contest and I know the boys cannot wait to get out on to the Allianz Park pitch.”
The Natwest Cup and Vase is the biggest schools rugby tournament in the world, with over 1,000 entries in the U18 and U15 competitions from across England, Wales and the Isle of Man. It has served as a springboard to launch the careers of some of England’s brightest stars such as Tom Wood, Manu Tuilagi and Marland Yarde.
Trent College booked their place in the semi-final thanks to a 29-6 last eight victory over East Midlands rivals Worksop College earlier this month while The Perse School beat St George’s College, Weybridge.