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Trent College’s ‘band of brothers’ are being urged to seize the opportunity to make history and become the first team to win the Under 18 Natwest Vase twice when they face The Royal Latin School, Buckingham in the final of the national competition at Twickenham tomorrow (Wednesday 29 March).
The Long Eaton school lifted the trophy for the first time in 2014, that day overcoming Exeter College 17-16 in a drama-packed final at the home of England rugby. But since the Vase was first contested in its current guise in 2000, it has been won by a different school in each of the 17 years and only one other team has reached the final on two occasions.
Trent have produced some impressive performances and results in their seven matches en route to the final. After being handed a walkover in the first round against De Lisle College, Loughborough, the Trent boys have scored 266 points and conceded just the 59 in their six Vase games since.
However, with none of the Trent XV ever having played in the awe-inspiring stadium environment of Twickenham before, or in front of a vast crowd that is set to include over 700 supporters from Trent College plus family and friends, the school’s Head of Rugby, Steve McGinnis, insists their big match preparations have focused on winning the mental battle as well as the physical.
He said: “It's going to be a fantastic experience no matter what. I dont think you can ever really prepare yourself for it. I've been fortunate enough to play there a few times and the first and last times are just as special.
“We are just trying to keep the boys grounded. If we can keep the day as routine as possible for them, so there are no surprises and they know what is coming up, that will help. As long as they have it in the backs of their minds they are there to play a rugby match, and not for a day out, that's the most important thing.
“Right from the outset this group has set their own standards. All year we’ve talked about being professional and not being complacent is part of being professional. I don’t think the team have any illusions that the final's going to be anything but hard. They are going to have to go out there, do what they have done all year and accept the challenge thats is front of them to hopefully come away with the win."
Leading the team out at Twickenham will be Year 13 student and Leicester Tigers Academy prospect, Jack Dickinson, the eldest of three brothers in the Trent College side. Jack returned to the team this season after being sidelined for a year through injury. But although he admits it will be a day to remember for him and his family, he insists it’s been the team spirit, not the influence of a few individuals, that has been the secret to Trent's success.
Jack said: "We've always said we're building up to something big. The foundations were put in place from Year 7 and from the start we've had a few leaders coming through, so there are always people prepared to take responsibility and push each other in different ways. Andy Brown was captain earlier this season, but although injury has ruled him out of this game, it’s great he is coming with us and will be another influential voice in the group.
"It's really special doing this with my brothers, George and Ben. We hadn’t played together for the school before this season and for it now to have all come to this point with us playing together at Twickenham will be quite a moment for our family."
Although all the Trent players will be making their Twickenham debuts, many were in the crowd to watch the 2014 win, including openside flanker Ethan Benstead and centre Charlie Livesey, whose brothers both featured in the victorious side. Charlie admits the 2017 boys would love to reproduce the elation of that day.
He said: “It was the best feeling and a massive lift for the whole school. It brings everyone together so much; everyone's been talking about this over the past few weeks. People are making banners, getting drums, all sorts of things and they can’t wait to get down there. My brother told me it's a once in a lifetime experience and you’ve got to make the most of it. That’s what we will be trying to do for everyone at the school."
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 and the British Lions' biggest stars including Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson, Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, James Haskell, Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft and Elliot Daly.