That’s the upshot of the 2016-2017 RFU fixture lists for clubs in London and South-East, which was published over the weekend.
Promotion and relegation issues at this level of sport are rarely straightforward, and so it was not until the dust had settled on the season just finished that it emerged that Old Mid-Whitgiftians were to be relegated to Surrey 1 for next season, this despite finishing apparently safe, if only just, third from bottom of London 3SW.
Also for the drop into the county leagues are Purley-John Fisher, after a disastrous season which saw them being penalised for a failure to fulfill matches with qualified front row forwards, as well as losing 19 of their 21 completed fixtures.
So in Surrey 1 in September will be MidWives (a club formed originally from Trinity School old boys) and Purley-John Fisher (including many ex-John Fisher pupils), plus Old Whitgiftians (the Whitgift old boys’ club), who narrowly missed out on promotion when finishing the season third in the table. Add into that mix the near-neighbours Chipstead (a club which has always accepted players regardless of what school they attended), and you have a season in store with plenty of local clashes which might be even more keenly fought than other fixtures.
With home and away games to be completed against all their divisional rivals, there will be 12 local derbies in Surrey 1 in 2016-2017, starting with Old Whits v Chipstead at Croham Manor Road on September 10, and with MidWives hosting their Whitgift rivals on September 17, the same day that Purley-John Fisher travel to Chipstead.
The relegation of MidWives and PJF leaves Warlingham as the only Croydon-based club still in the lofty reaches of the London regional divisions.
The Hamsey Green club had a mediocre playing record last season, finishing with eight wins from the 22 matches in London 2 South-West, but that was good enough for a ninth-placed league finish and a place in the same division for next season.
And that will include a game against Twickenham, the club based in the shadow of England’s home ground, if not playing on the “old cabbage patch” itself.
Warlingham’s coaching staff and officials are keenly aware that they play on the cusp of semi-pro rugby, with clubs in the leagues above them routinely making payments to some or all of their players. That’s something which Warlingham has avoided, at least until now, and they point to the recent fate of East Grinstead, who have plummeted five divisions once their long-time sponsor pulled the plug on his finance for the team, which has seen most of the first XV players leave and the rest of the club left in some degree of turmoil.
“London 2 is a difficult league in which to survive,” Paddy Dennien, Warlingham’s head coach, said once his side had completed its season. “The next step takes you into the semi-professional arena which is a whole different ball game.
“We’re very proud to be the highest club in the area and we’ll be back next season to aim high.”
At the end of last month, Streatham and Croydon were the only local side to win promotion, winning Surrey 3 after a dominating 58-8 victory over the Metropolitan Police.
It was the second promotion season for Streatham and Croydon in a couple of years. The Frant Road side and Bec Old Boys dominated their division over the winter months and will resume their rivalry in Surrey 2 in September, alongside another local team, Old Walcountians.
Croydon RFC’s time in Surrey 2 has come to an end, for now at least. The club, based on Addington Road, West Wickham, had escaped relegation 12 months ago, despite having gone the whole season without a single victory. But having now matched that unenviable record, losing all their 18 fixtures in 2015-2016, they will face the new season in Surrey 3.
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