RUGBY ROUND-UP: It’s the big kick-off this weekend.
No, not that little tournament being staged in Japan, but in Division One of the Surrey county league.
The club rugby season gets underway in earnest tomorrow, and this year sees the 10-team top division in the county crammed with five clubs from in and around the Croydon area.
That means there’s a derby match of sorts almost every week in Surrey 1.
The strong Croydon interest is the outcome of Purley-John Fisher getting promoted after winning Surrey 2 last season, and with Old Whitgiftians dropping down a tier after one season in the regional London and South-East divisions.
Old Whits were particularly unfortunate, having avoided finishing in the bottom two of their division, but suffered the drop as the blazers at the RFU shuffled the county divisions to balance-up numbers.
Tomorrow’s first-round of matches in Surrey 1 see PJF travel the short distance to Chipstead, while Old Walcountians are at home against Kingston. Old Whits play away at Teddington and the recently renamed Trinity – Old Mid-Whitgiftians as was – play their first game in earnest under their new title at Old Haileyburians.
Upcoming derby clashes include Old Walcs v Chipstead on September 28, Trinity hosting PJF in the next round of matches, October 19, while Old Walcs are at home to Trinity on October 26.
There’s double-derby action on November 9: Old Whits vPJF, and Trinity v Chipstead.
There’s no local interest in Surrey 2, for while Purley-John Fisher were taking the title last season, Streatham-Croydon were floundering at the bottom of the table and dropped into Surrey 3.
The Streatham-Croydon men’s squad has been training hard this summer, initially with intensive fitness sessions on Tooting Bec Common, and more recent at the club’s HQ at Frant Road in Thornton Heath.
Coach Matt Hawkes has introduced a new game plan, which leverages the strengths of the old guard, while adding in a couple of new recruits including fly-half Joe West and flanker Craig Metcalfe – though he is still on the look-out for any budding prop forwards.
The first XV’s pre-season fixtures including against touring side Long Beach State, from California, who nicked the win with a last-gasp try, and a testing work-out against Old Becs, who were able to call on a 30-man squad while Streatham-Croydon relied on their starting XV for the full 80 minutes.
The Surrey 3 opener at Frant Road tomorrow (3pm kick-off) is against old rivals Metropolitan Police.
One area where Streatham-Croydon are thriving is with its women’s team, and their season started earlier this month with a win against Southampton.
With two early tries by Alayna Hunte, whose family have played for the club for years, the women settled into the game. Strong defence kept the opposition nilled, with the full-time score 26-0.
The women are also building a development team, particularly focused on those new to the sport. The first development XV fixture is scheduled for this Sunday, and new players are welcome at any Tuesday night training session.
The area’s biggest and most successful club, Warlingham, got their season off to a flying start last Saturday with a 43-22 win over Trojans in London and South-East 3SW at Hamsey Green. Joe McEvoy scored 23 points, including two tries, while debutant full-back Sam Perry also grabbed a couple of tries, including one which saw him race from his own half all the way under the Trojan posts.
The margin of victory might have been bigger still had Trojans not managed to get two late tries with Warlingham down to 13 players… the relatively warm September sunshine providing hot conditions that saw tiring players making mistakes towards the end of the game.
Warlingham produced some progressive rugby last season, but the squad seemed to run out of steam in the last couple of months of the season.
There’s been a couple of players leaving to seek game time at a higher level: powerful David Priest has joined Tonbridge Juddians, who play in National 2, while Tom Webster – who established himself in the Surrey under-20s’ side last season – has moved to Sutton and Epsom, who have been promoted to National 2.
It has therefore been a busy summer for head coach Nick Warren, both on the training paddock and on the phone, as he has undertaken a recruitment drive which has brought in some new players with impressive-looking CVs.
This week saw the arrival of Sam Showering, who learned his rugby at Millfield School and has played for Gloucester academy and in their Sevens team.
Also among the signings is Randy Porter, a flying wing from New York who has played for the United States’ rugby league side.
Other signings include Neil Brown as player-coach, who has had experience playing for Leeds, Wimbledon and Westcombe Park. Tom Parker is a former England under-20s scrum-half who has played at London Irish, and who proved influential when making his Warlingham debut last Saturday. Another to make his senior debut last week was wing Nathan White, a former junior player at the club and Trinity schoolboy who has just finished his studies at Durham University.
Warren has cast his net far and wide, and has brought in a couple of Aussies from Queensland, in Charlie Brennard, a fly-half, and prop Jamie Bradbury, who has played representative rugby.
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