St Peter's School learned a brutal lesson of not heeding warnings after losing the Daily Mail Schools' Under-18s Cup 23-25 to a last minute converted try.

The York boys had been cruising 20-5 up after just 30 minutes with the quality of rugby spelling annihilation for their Exeter College counterparts and were seconds away from making history as only the second team in the competition history to win the cup at both under-15 and under-18 level.

But a second half revival by comeback kings Exeter was completed with a gut-wrenching 70th minute try to level and an ice-cold conversion to win, sparking scenes of utter devastation.

St Peter's master of rugby Richard Francis was distraught, explaining that all were aware of Exeter's comeback character.

He said: "It was always our fear that they would come back into it because they have come from behind four times in the previous rounds.

"We just took our foot off the accelerator. It's ironic because we talked about it beforehand."

St Peter's became champions-elect in the minds of many of the 1,500-plus crowd as early as the fourth minute when James Pang spun out from the back of a rolling maul to put them 5-0 up.

Charlie Parry missed the conversion but kicked a penalty minutes later to extend the lead before man-of-the-match Ben Hough, returned to full-back after Peter Wackett's arrival from England duty, took the ball at pace on the left and sprinted in an arc over the line, Parry's conversion unluckily hitting an upright.

Exeter retaliated with their first foray into the St Peter's 22 on 17 minutes. Little headway was made in the maul but the ball was switched across the field and, despite an impressive saving tackle by Hough in the previous phase, centre Matt Hilton crashed over.

The try of the game featured a quick-handed exchange between fly-half Ed Hilling and Wackett before Mark Jagger broke through and unselfishly off-loaded to Hough. It was simply stunning. With 50 minutes to go, St Peter's looked invincible.

But they knew it. Chinks started to appear with only some superior defending holding Exeter back but they still snuck in to make it 20-10 at half time, Parry missing another three-pointer at the death.

The gap was down to three points by the 55th minute after an early try and a penalty, with heroics from Hough preventing another try with three Exeter boys bearing down on the loose ball on the St Peter's try line after a Wackett fumble left the door clean open.

St Peter's had a try ruled out on 44 minutes when a sweet Wackett dummy created space for Jagger to set up Hough in the corner, but he hit the flag on the way in.

Parry coolly restored a five-point gap with a kick just inside the 22 after Exeter were penalised for handling inside the ruck.

But it wasn't enough as Exeter finally followed through their threat to break the St Peter's hearts with a last-minute Ben Scott try, converted by Glen Channing with what was virtually the last kick of the game.

St Peter's: Ben Hough, Charlie Parry, Peter Wackett, Mark Jagger, Michael Miller, Ed Hilling, James Pang, Mick Morris, Ali MacLeod (capt), Jason Burton (Peter Stower), Tom Clarke, Tom Denton, Rory Robertson, Will Butler, Mick Morris.

Reps (not used): Jeremy Thomas, Tom Lloyd, Richard Lum, Charlie Duke, Robin Johnson, Simon Webster.

Exeter College: Scott, Stanley, Hilton, Channing, Briggs, Brooks, Bolt, Morshead (capt), Kelly, Griffiths, Melbourne, Stevens, Kingsland, Tait, Turner.

Reps: Baker, Wallace, Wright, Lyle, Stoneman, Beard, Brown.

Referee: Andrew Vertigan.

Updated: 09:57 Thursday, March 24, 2005