Northampton School for Boys scrum-half Connor Tupai, son of former Samoa backrower Paul, was delighted to score his first-ever drop-goal to seal his side’s NatWest Schools Cup Under-18 Vase 17-12 win over St Ambrose at Twickenham in a fizzing match which was hard to call right up until the final whistle.
"That was the first one [successful drop-goal] ever in my life," the 15-year-old No9 smiled. "It's a dream come through. It wasn't just me though, the boys played hard. We fought well until the end, and we were nervous but we pulled through. Good on the boys. It is the birthday of the captain [hooker Matthias Farmer], so we will eat some cake to celebrate."
When asked whether his five-cap father – who was watching in the crowd at Twickenham, along with Connor's grandmother Mary, who had flown over especially from New Zealand – taught him how to kick drop goals Tupai said: "No, definitely not him. He doesn't pass, either. You only live once, so I gave it a go. It turned out alright, so all good."
Minute's silence: Former Northampton School for Boys' student Zac Forskitt, who died over the weekend of cancer aged just 20, is remembered ahead of the U18 Vase final Photo: SCHOOLSPORTSPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
Before kick-off there was a moving minute's silence for Zac Forskitt, a Northampton School for Boys player in the Under-18 NatWest Schools Cup final in 2013 – which Dulwich won 27-17 – who lost his fight with cancer at the weekend, tragically aged just 20.
It was St Ambrose who started the stronger, with Ciaran Booth crossing for the first try of the final after only six minutes. The No8 dotted down after expertly steering a rolling maul, and No10 Jacob Daldry converted.
Just over 10 minutes later Jake Johnson, the Northampton Saints Academy centre, showed his talent, making a big break which was halted by an excellent cover tackle by St Ambrose scrum-half Thomas Walsh.
A couple of minutes later Northampton fly-half Thomas Holliday could only strike a post with a penalty effort, though his opposite number, Daldry, missed a three-pointer himself shortly afterwards.
A significant moment came close to the half-hour mark when, with six minutes until the break, St Ambrose lock Niall Broderick was sin binned. Northampton scored a minute later, with Callum Inwood, the openside flanker, crossing following a well-worked short lineout. Holliday added the two points, making it a nicely poised 7-7 at the interval.
Again St Ambrose began the half well, with Connor Doherty, the inside centre, scoring with a sublime solo effort after his side's scrum on the 22-yard line. The conversion was wayward, crucially, making it 12-7 to the Greater Manchester side.
Over he goes: Joshua Arimoro, the Northampton School for Boys centre, crashes over for a score against St Ambrose Photo: SCHOOLSPORTSPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
Northampton School for Boys capitalised on a charged down kick, with centre Josh Arimoro taking advantage and Johnson converted to take it to 14-12. Tupai's late drop-goal took the game away from St Ambrose, who could – and probably should – have scored in the last 10 minutes.
Northampton Schools for Boys' director of rugby, Mark Lee, said of Tupai: "He is just an enigma, and has got the lot. He has only just converted to No9; he was a fly-half. The guy that he played against today [Thomas Walsh] is a very, very talented scrum-half, but on balance I think our boy – who is only 15 – took it. He was absolutely fantastic in every area.
"We didn't start well, and we were bullied off the ball at the breakdown. When we started to get some pattern and continuity we played most of the rugby in the second half and dominated the game from that perspective. However, St Ambrose are really dangerous if you give them any space. Those last 10 minutes felt like about four years."
When asked about the prospect of defending the Vase title next year, or even taking the Cup, Lee added: "There are 11 of that team who will be playing for us next year, and Connor has two more years, as has Jake Johnson – both players train with the Northampton Saints Academy. Next year we should start off quite strongly.
"The most emotional thing for me to deal with today was thoughts of the 2013 final, when we lost to Dulwich. I'm coming close to retirement and if I came to Twickenham again and didn't win then that would be hard to take. So for me personally I'm absolutely delighted. And I'm really proud of this team, too, because they got stuck in. The whole thing has wrapped up beautifully for me."
Northampton School for Boys U18
15 Henry Timm, 14 Christian Morgan, 13 Joshua Arimoro, 12 Jake Johnson, 11 Christian Barry, 10 Thomas Holliday, 9 Connor Tupai; 1 Jake Diagin, Matthias Farmer (c), 3 Alex Pittaway, 4 Toby Stanton, 5 Thomas Rowlatt, 6 William Salt, 7 Callum Inwood, 8 Joseph Britton
Replacements: Alexander Barlow-Doran, Thomas Robinson, Oliver Clarke, Doug Scoles, Henry Dunn, Samuel Pinnock-Attfield, Conor McCabe
St Ambrose U18
15 Callum Francis, 14 Sam Gallimore, 13 Kieran Dunne, 12 Connor Doherty, 11 Tom Hughes, 10 Jacob Daldry, 9 Thomas Walsh; 1 Alex Oakes, 2 George Edge (c), 3 Daniel McDonagh, 4 Rory Crossen, 5 Niall Broderick, 6 Thomas Booth, 7 Ben Hughes, 8 Ciaran Booth
Replacements: Matthew Leonard, Kieran Lalley, Sean Donnelly, Gregor Nolan, Rory Devereux, Ciaran Grieves, Will Seth-Smith
Players from the 2015-16 NatWest Schools Cup are being offered the chance to attend an Academy Day at England's training base. Go to englandrugby.com/natwestschoolscup to register and for more information
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