Thousands expected on touchline for annual schools clash

RUGBY ROUND-UP: It may be a Heineken Cup weekend, and the local rugby clubs might well be staging some important league fixtures tomorrow. But the real match of the day as far as Croydon sport is concerned kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday on school playing fields on Plough Lane, off the Purley Way.

Schools champion: Lawrence Okoye in his rugby-playing days at Whitgift School. He is now the British discus record-holder, an Olympic finallist and a member of the San Francisco 49ers squad that will be playing at Wembley later this month

Schools champion: Lawrence Okoye in his rugby-playing days at Whitgift School. He is now the British discus record-holder, an Olympic finallist and a member of the San Francisco 49ers squad that will be playing at Wembley later this month

It is the annual “friendly” fixture between John Fisher School and their South Croydon rivals Whitgift.

The roll-call of former pupils who have played in this fixture, between two of England’s leading rugby-playing schools who are located barely more than a mile apart, is increasingly impressive, with the likes of internationals Danny Cipriani – playing some of the best rugby of his career recently for Sale – Paul Sackey and Kyle Traynor, London Irish’s Marland Yarde, Elliot Daly, of London Wasps, Harlequins’ George Merrick and even Lawrence Okoye, of the San Francisco 49ers via an Olympic discus final.

Tomorrow, there should be more than 20 matches played, across three sites, starting in the morning, from the under-12s’ “D” XVs all the way up to the first XV battle in the afternoon.

With staff, parents and boys from games played earlier in the day, by the time of the main event, the fixture has an estimated crowd of more than 2,000, all standing three or four deep around the pitch for the ultimate contest.

This autumn, as too often has been the case in the recent past, the annual fixture will serve as a prelude to a higher stakes game in the coming weeks, in the re-titled NatWest Cup national schools competition.

Fisher are due to play Glyn, from Epsom, on Wednesday in the third round of a competition in which they have a strong record. Having won their previous match in the cup 63-0 over the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, Fisher should progress to the fourth round where they are due to play… Whitgift, the 60-3 victors over City of London Freeman’s last week.

Fisher’s old boys club, Purley John Fisher, got their first win of the season last week, giving the boot to Old Wellingtonians 24-9 in London 3SW.

Wellingtonians took the early lead through two well-kicked penalties, but a Johan Malcolm penalty for PJF was quickly followed by an impressive try from winger Conrad McFarlane.

From deep inside his own half scrum half James McPartland chipped, chased and collected the ball, finding himself in space he ran deep into the opposition half. Good support play and quick re-cycling saw the ball spin across the paddock releasing the speedy McFarlane into space and over the line. Malcolm converted and PJF went into halftime 10-6 ahead.

After a third Wellingtonians penalty, Malcolm got on to the score sheet again, taking the ball after his forwards had driven forward, and won a chip and chase for his side’s second try, which he duly converted.

From a scrum, PJF moved the ball across the backline where centre Piotr Swiatkiewicz drifted, drew and released McFarlane to score his second try of the game. Malcolm sealed his Man of the Match performance with a final conversion taking his personal points tally to 14.

PJF are away at London Exiles tomorrow, while the other local side in their division, Old Mid-Whitgiftians, are at home against Eastleigh. MidWives have some work to do to pick themselves up after last week’s 55-10 trouncing at New Milton; it must have been bad: the regular MidWives weekly match report never appeared this week.

In the division above, Warlingham have a tough fixture at home to the leaders of London 2SE, Deal and Bettishanger. But they go into the match off the back of an impressive 20-15 win at Tunbridge Wells.

Warlingham were boosted by the return of their international back-rower, Mikal Ahola, after he played for Finland in a win over Greece.

With a much improved defensive performance, the home side’s attacks were frustrated as Warlingham fly half James Agate distributed well and his back line, especially Brad Saffery and Luke Davies, punched holes in the Wells defence.

Although the home side was first to score, Warlingham’s captain, Zac King, completed a multi-phase attack with a try under the posts which full back Joe McEvoy converted. Wells pulled back three points when the Warlingham scrum was penalised when under severe pressure. McEvoy then missed a penalty but immediately made amends right on the half-time whistle when he scythed through the Wells midfield to score Warlingham’s second try which he converted. 

After the turn-round Wells had the better of the play and used the pitch slope intelligently pinning Warlingham in their own half.

McEvoy slotted a second penalty to give his side some breathing space, but Warlingham needed some relentless tackling from their Belgian international lock, Yassine Boufaied, assisted by flanker Jon Osborne.

Tunbridge Wells eventually scored another converted try, and with only two points separating the sides the hosts were still in the chase. They attacked desperately and were held up on two occasions over the Warlingham try line, unable to ground the ball. After all that pressure, McEvoy sealed the win with a final penalty.

“We won that game by very stout defending and mental strength,” Ben Stobart, the Warlingham coach, said. “Any away win in this league will be hard fought and we’re happy to take the points.”

In the lower, Surrey 1 county league, Old Walcountians remain win-less after their 24-10 defeat at Battersea Ironsides last week, though Old Whitgiftians enjoyed a 48-18 win over Kingston.

In Surrey 2, the local(ish) derby at Chipstead with Streatham-Croydon ended in a 28-28 draw, while after some difficult months, Croydon grabbed a well-deserved win, beating Old Ruts 10-7.

Whitgiftians travel to Old Tonbridgians tomorrow, as Walcountians host Tiffin’s old boys. Croydon play at Economicals, while Streatham-Croydon host the Law Society at Frant Road.

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