Catholic state school Fisher, named “Rugby School of the Year” by England’s Rugby Football Union recently, and £18,000-a-year private school Whitgift are among the country’s top rugby-playing secondaries. Their approach to sport is more akin to what you find with American high schools and their football squads.
The annual “friendly” fixture in October between the schools – which are both named after Tudor-period bishops – sees games staged between three or four XVs in every age group, from Year 7 to Year 13, involving more than 700 boys. They all play fiercely contested matches on the immaculately maintained school playing fields of South Croydon and Purley.
By the time of the elite first XV match in mid-afternoon, a crowd of around 2,000 spectators – younger pupils, parents, girlfriends and staff – will have gathered to watch.
According to a report in tomorrow’s Sunday Times by Jonathan Leake, there was no match today because the rivalry on the field started to spill over on the sidelines.
Last year’s match witnessed some “toffs v chavs” chanting, and a scuffle. When some Whitgift supporters started singing their own, revised version of a Pink Floyd song, adapting the lyrics to “You ain’t got no education…” (imagine: public school boys using a word like “ain’t”!), Fisher fans responded with “Five Points, five points, 20 grand for five points”.
Soon after, confrontations between the groups started.
The simmering tension around the match has been noticeable for several years.
Until last October, any aggression had been confined to what rugby commentators like to describe as “a bit of handbags” between the players. Within a game, that kind of violence is usually handled calmly and swiftly by the match officials.
But when a scuffle broke out on the touchline last year, there was no mechanism for dealing with it.Previous off-field fighting and attacks on rival teams following schools rugby matches has seen the abandonment of regular matches between Whitgift and Trinity School, another independent run by the Whitgift Foundation. That annual fixture has never been resumed.
Last week, John Fisher announced on Twitter, “Sadly the John Fisher vs Whitgift senior games are unable to take place on Saturday 7th October. Unfortunatelythere was some disruption at the first XV game in 2016 resulting in Whitgift requesting a mid-week fixture.
“Unfortunately it has not been able to arrange a mutually convenient time this year.
“However, both schools will play at all other levels and both remain committed to restoring the senior fixtures for 2018.”
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