RUGBY ROUND-UP: It was the big rugby showdown that lived up to all the hype. Not England v the All Blacks at Twickenham, but last Wednesday’s South Croydon thriller, Whitgift v John Fisher in the Daily Mail Cup won by the home side 33-19, a final scoreline that belies the closeness of the contest.
Into the last moments of a tense and pulsating, flowing game, where a series of individual errors had already been cruelly punished, the score was 26-19. With a single score separating the sides, Fisher were pressing for another try which, if converted and tying up the scores, would put them through to the fifth round on the basis of the competition rule that favours the away side in the event of a draw.
Fisher knew they were into the final play. There was no margin for error. As Fisher moved the ball down the line just outside their own 22, probing for a gap in the tiring Whitgift defence, they tried one expansive pass too many. Whitgift centre George Smith, who’d already enjoyed an outstanding game, summoned up a last burst of energy, grabbed the ball from the air, and had a simple run-in under the posts for a try, converted by fly-half George Jones, to complete the scoring at 33-19.
Around the pitch, blue-shirted teenagers leapt for joy, embracing each other and some of their mates in a crowd several hundred strong, made up of younger pupils, parents, old boys and even Croydon councillor Phil Thomas, taking the afternoon off.
Meanwhile, 15 lads in light-coloured shirts slumped to their haunches, their heads in their hands, exhausted and dismayed. They had given their all.
Fisher had fought back hard in the second half. With the strong wind at their backs, they were trying to overturn a half-time deficit of 14-0, accumulated through three penalties from Jones and some strong-arm forward play that delivered the opening try as Whitgift No8, Henry Cheeseman, forced his way across the line.
The pattern of the game had already been established: Whitgift bossing the scrums with some force, yet Fisher using the rolling maul off line-outs with devastating effect.
After the turn-round, and now with the wind assisting them, Fisher could actually make in-roads into the Whitgift 22. From an attacking line-out immediately after the re-start, Fisher second-rowers Dominic McGeekie and Kieran Treadwell again did their schtick, and the forwards trundled toward the try line with ease. A Fisher forward appeared to break away and touch down, but the referee instead awarded a penalty try.
Off the re-start, Whitgift were throwing the ball about, but a pass to Jones, the county fly-half in his age-group, was dropped, Fisher fly-hacked the ball 30 yards back toward their opponents’ line and with the wind at his back, London Irish academy player Declan Williams used his pace and football skills to touch down across the line under the posts. Oliver Hutson had the easiest of conversions, and so within five minutes of the second half, it was 14-14, with Whitgift visibly rocked.
The next score was key, and this was where George Smith turned the game. Smith showed great pace down the left and kicked ahead to create mayhem for the Fisher full-back. Off the ruck, Lorcan Dow, Whitgift’s flanker, charged down the clearing kick and Cheeseman’s giant presence was on hand to score the try. 21-14.
As he jogged back from the conversion, George Jones was still seething over his handling error, and soon after the re-start, he took a chance to make full amends. Spotting that Williams had left a gaping space behind him on the left, Jones aimed his kick with perfection and Smith again showed his pace. With a perfect bounce favouring the centre, he was through for another try, though Jones was unable to add the extras.
At 26-14, that meant the score was tantalisingly set for the final 20 minutes, and when another line-out maul delivered McGeekie across the line, the match was poised at 26-19 and still far from settled.
There was little local club rugby action at the weekend – too many players with tickets for Twickenham’s historic game? Too many players dragged off for Christmas shopping – with Warlingham, “the Mighty Warl”, pulling out of their cup game at Brighton. Streatham and Croydon might think that they should have done the same, as the Surrey 2 side shipped 70 points at Surrey 1 leaders Farnham.
In Surrey 1, league action continued, but only Old Whitgiftians managed a win, 40-7 over Cranleigh.
Croydon‘s sorry season continued with a 14-20 defeat at Addington Road, while over at Woodmansterne, Old Walcountians lost 16-8 to Old Freemans.
The results leave Croydon and Walcountians propping up the table. Walcountians visit Cranleigh on Saturday as Croydon host Kingston.
In Surrey 2, Streatham-Croydon have what is almost a local derby, hosting Bec Old Boys.
The club fixture of the weekend will surely be at Hamsey Green, where Warlingham are due to take on the London 2SW league leaders Brighton.
After a week off in London 3SW, Old Mid-Whitgiftians are home to Old Blues, while Purley John Fisher travel overseas… well, to the Isle of Wight, at Sandown & Shanklin.
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