RUGBY ROUND-UP: It may not be a very Merry Christmas down at Parsons Pightle in Old Coulsdon this year, where problems in getting out a full team have seen Purley-John Fisher penalised by 10 league points, plonking the club at the foot of the London 3SW table as we approach the midway point in the season.
The alickadoos at Twickenham who run the RFU take a very dim view of clubs that cannot field a full XV including specialist front-row forwards – those strange beasts who inhabit the neverworld at the centre of the scrum so beloved of English rugby union. And you’re supposed to have at least one trained prop among your subs, too.
There’s good reason for the necessity for experienced props: when a scrum collapses, the risk of serious injury to neck and spine is high.
And the gruelling demands of front-row work in the lower reaches of local club rugby also take their toll: every time someone drops the ball, play re-starts with a scrum, and the handling skills in some teams are not, shall we say, quite up there with the All Blacks or Toulon. So there’s usually plenty of scrum action.
With some changes in personnel among coaches and officials at Purley-John Fisher over the summer, their first XV went into the season and twice failed to field a recognised front row, attracting two 5pt deductions. “It’s sad, because we’d always prided ourselves on our strength in the scrum, particularly the front row,” one club stalwart told Inside Croydon.
As a consequence, PJF face the final four months of the rugby season already condemned to relegation to Surrey 1, with nothing to show for their two wins out of the 10 matches they have played so far, and their latest defeat being a 15-43 drubbing against top-of-the-table Camberley last Saturday.
This week, PJF travel to Old Tonbridgians.
Their local rivals in the same division, Old Mid-Whitgiftians, are doing a little better, finding themselves in ninth place in the league after winning five of their games so far this season, including a hard-fought 10-7 over Battersea Ironsides last week.
Ironsides, who were second in the table, had a big, powerful pack, but MidWives had the edge in the line-out and were quicker around the paddock.
MidWives took the lead after being under the cosh for the first 25 minutes, after Andy Dean set up a ruck near the Battersea line. The forwards took over and after several thwarted attempts space opened up for Nigel Peart to crash over.
Five minutes later, after another break by Dean, the home side’s forwards won quick ball and Danny Crouch chipped the ball towards the right corner and found Terry Gillam who took two defenders over the line with him to score his first try for the club.
Early in the second half, Battersea closed the gap when they took advantage of Peart being sent to the sin bin. They won a scrum close to the Mids’ line and after three or four attempts at a push over, they picked up at the base and charged over.
Following a successful conversion, MidWives had to hang on for the rest of the game, but with some grim defending managed to secure the victory. This Saturday, Old Mid-Whitgiftians face a tough trip to Farnham.
Whatever the current form of the other local teams, the example of Croydon RFC must be one to follow. The Addington Road-based club has not won a league fixture since April 2014 – a full 20 months. Having gone through the 2014-2015 season losing all their games, they are maintaining that “form” in Surrey 2, with no wins from their first 10 matches this term. Yet still they manage to put out a side each week.
The latest battering came at home last weekend, 12-49 to a side called Economicals. This Saturday, Croydon have a bottom-of-the-table clash with Wimbledon-based Old Blues, possibly offering them their best opportunity of a win all season.
The area’s highest-ranked club, Warlingham, appear to be settling into a season of mid-table mediocrity in London 2SW.
The Hamsey Green club must have got a nose bleed from flying so high in the table last month, when four consecutive wins got them up to third place. But three defeats on the bounce since have seen them slip back to a more familiar eighth in the division, with five wins from their 10 games.
On Saturday, it was a 9-32 defeat at home against Winchester, shipping five tries and scoring none.
When lock Matt Prince was yellow-carded in the third minute, Winchester took full advantage of the extra man and from a five-metre line-out they drove over for their first try.
Warlingham full back Joe McEvoy slotted a penalty to settle the home side, but constant pressure gave Winchester a penalty which they kicked successfully and soon after they scored their second and third tries as they stretched the home side’s defensive line to breaking point and beyond.
Warlingham’s only score came from two further McEvoy penalties, as Winchester ran in two more tries despite playing into the strong wind in the second half. Warlingham travel to top-of-the-league Cobham on Saturday.
The area’s three other clubs head into the final fixture of 2015 still with their eyes on a promotion push in 2016.
In Surrey 1, Old Whitgiftians stormed to a 58-19 win over the Law Society last Saturday, their fourth win from five and putting them in second place in the table, chasing leaders Old Freemans.
Old Walcountians, in Surrey 2, are third after six wins from their 10 matches, but they’ve just had a poor fortnight, drawing at Cranleigh and, last Saturday, losing 22-17 at Worth Old Boys, giving them a lot of ground to make up in the New Year.
The area’s oldest and formerly most prestigious club, Streatham and Croydon, find themselves in the lowest tier of senior rugby, Surrey 3, but they are revelling in winning form this season, having won all but one of their 10 league games, including a stonking 58-8 win at Merton last week.
The week before, S&C had suffered their only defeat of the season, 48-19 against Reeds Weybridge, the team that they will need to overcome if they want to bring their division title to Frant Road come April.
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