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Tonbridge Juddians RFC

News and Events

Academy NCC Final Report

5th May 2022

A heroic effort from a depleted and battered TJs side saw them fall agonisingly short of claiming a third National Cup title as two tries in the last five minutes secured a maiden National title for West Park Leeds Colts in the most dramatic of fashions following a physical and enthralling encounter at Sixways Stadium, Worcester.

The U18 club showpiece saw West Park Leeds making their first appearance in a National Final whilst TJs Academy were bidding for their third National title in seven seasons having previously been crowned champions in 2015 and 2017.

TJs were dealt a double blow before kick off when both Ralph Hawker and Luke Beaumont failed late fitness tests to add to their already lengthy injury list. Despite this, it was they who enjoyed the early pressure, gaining field position and a penalty to the corner saw a catch and drive cross the line and prop Jake Hardcastle emerge with the ball. Jamie Tutt duly converted and TJs were off to a flying start. However, on the quarter hour mark West Park showed the full extent of their sizzling attacking capabilities as they moved turnover ball left and then right as an excellent cut out pass from fly half Ben Turpin created an initial line break before the outstanding Luca Walsh broke a tackle and fed full back Oliver Chadwick to finish. Turpin converted to level the scores. The game ebbed and flowed as an even contest for the rest of the first half with limited clear-cut chances. Tutt had the opportunity to put TJs back in front, missing from 40m out but it was the men from Kent who struck next with a second score almost a carbon copy of the first. A Jonah Houghton kick to the same corner saw the TJs pack drive over again with Hardcastle claiming his second score. Houghton converted to send TJs into the break with a 14-7 lead.

It was West Park who made the better start to the second period and were rewarded for their efforts after just six minutes. A series of strong, direct carries from the forwards with Pharrell Parker and Walsh to the fore sucked the TJs defence in and a series of penalties saw the Yorkshiremen opt to tap and trust their phase play attack rather than kick at goal or to the corner. Eventually pressure told and swift feet from Denive Balforth and smooth hands from Turpin combined to send replacement Theo Thornton over in the corner. Balforth converting well from the touchline to level the scores.

For the next 25 minutes an enthralling and physical battle saw West Park enjoy the lions share of possession and territory. Although TJs occasionally pushed downfield the majority of the game was played in their half but despite the strong carries and skilful attack of West Park the outstanding TJs defence held firm. With a quarter of an hour to play Turpin missed a shot at goal that would have put his side ahead and it looked for a while as if this may be costly as with the scores level and time ticking away it would be TJs who would take the crown as first scorers should the game end level.

A nasty clash of heads saw centre Tom Froggatt become the second TJs players leave the field for concussion as the men in red were forced into a further reorganisation. With eight minutes to play TJs captain Nick Edwards was sent to the sin bin for failing to roll away and three minutes later West Park made the extra man tell as red wall finally broke to the men blue’s powerful and skilful attack. TJs struck threateningly down the left but were penalised for holding on just inside the opposition half and West Park tapped and carried powerfully down the middle varying the point of attack pick and goes as well as wide movements left and right and eventually Turpin found space to put centre Oliver Aston over in the corner. Although the conversion was missed with just four minutes remaining and an exhausted and battered TJs side out on their feet this had the feeling of the decisive moment and so it proved to be. The restart went dead and from the resulting scrum Balforth went 50m to add a final score and put the result beyond doubt with Turpin converting.

For TJs it was heartbreak but they will take heart from the fact that many of their side will be back next season hoping to go one better. Head of Academy, Gareth Withers said, ‘ultimately this was a game too far for a group who have suffered from a lot of injuries. Credit to West Park, they are an excellent team and worthy winners on the day. I couldn’t be prouder of the guts and determination shown by this group and with many returning next season for another year in the Academy the future is very bright.

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