Rugby remains the ultimate team game, but after yet another outstanding points-scoring performance to help his schoolmates to a second Daily Mail Cup victory, few would argue that Whitgift School centre Elliot Daly is a senior international player-in-waiting.
Whitgift School scored five tries to become only the fourth school to win England’s Under-18 championship in consecutive years, overcoming Oakham School 45-24.
Daly,18, is an outstanding all-round sportsman, having won England cricket honours at under-16 level as well as playing rugby through the age groups to the point that he scored seven tries during the recent under-20s Six Nations Championship.
On Twickenham’s hallowed turf with his school for a second time, the former Dorking player gave those who had not seen him perform before good cause to understand why he has been given a contract to play as a full-time professional with Wasps, where he made his senior debut before Christmas.
After last year’s victory, some rivals had pointed to the manner in which Whitgift had managed to “recruit” the likes of Daly and England under-18 lock forward George Merrick.
But the 2010 winning side was also made up of a strong core of Lower 6th boys, many of whom had been at the South Croydon school since the age of 10, so it was particularly suitable that the scoring at the 2011 final should be opened by one of them, Olly Dickerson, after just five minutes. Daly kicked the conversion, before a few moments later kicking a monster penalty from inside his own half to increase Whitgift’s lead to 10 points.
Oakham are a school with a strong sporting pedigree:Lewis Moody and Tom Croft, England forwards, and Leicester’s Matt Smith all learned their rugby there, while Ashes winning cricketer Stuart Broad is another of their products.
Oakham’s 2011 generation quickly had a chance to peg back three points, but squandered a penalty right in front of the posts. The Rutland school got on the score sheet on 22 minutes, when De La Rey Veenendaal released winger Sam Tipper after a scrum deep inside Whitgift territory.
Oakham did not have to wait long to draw level, as the outstanding Veenendaal sliced through a soft Whitgift defensive line from a scrum on the halfway line to touch down in the corner.
Penalties either side of half time from Daly edged Whitgift back in front at 16-10, but a converted try from his former England team mate Charlie Walker after the latter’s clean break and superb sidestepping finish saw Oakham take a 17-16 lead with half an hour remaining.
Whitgift, however, regained the ascendancy six minutes later through prolific fullback Chris Crane, and although Daly missed a penalty on 49 minutes, the floodgates were not long in opening.
Another three points from the talismanic Daly initiated a period that saw the Londoners register 24 points in just a quarter of an hour, as a short-range, burrowing try from hooker Simon Hugkulstone, an opportunistic effort from captain Tommy Nicholls and a 50-metre dash from replacement George Smith ensured that Whitgift would be bringing the trophy back to Croydon.
A shell-shocked and dejected Oakham did grab a consolation score just before the final whistle through Veenendaal, a try that Walker converted, but it was only scant consolation.
Whitgift head coach Chris Wilkins was delighted with his side’s performance, particularly in the absence of key players Merrick and Harry Ledger, who missed the match through injury. In their place, the likes of Guy Newman stepped up, the back-rower doing much work in the loose to win ball, and playing a role in three of his side’s tries.
“I’m obviously very pleased, it was a very good team effort. We had a couple of injuries and the lads who came in were outstanding,” Wilkins said.
“I thought we worked really hard. I thought the breakdown was good and allowed us to get some quick ball and play with a bit of width.
“We’re very pleased and very proud for the boys that all their hard work has come to fruition.”
And it might just be that a second Daily Mail Cup victory might mean that a player’s name other than “Cipriani” is what is associated with Whitgift in the future.