There will be two players in England’s team for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final in Japan who learned the game on the playing fields of south London.
But when Elliot Daly runs out at Yokohama alongside prop forward Kyle Sinkler for the final against South Africa, it won’t be the first time that a couple of rugby players with close associations to Croydon will have played together for England in a World Cup final.
Because that also happened in 2007.
Then, the final was in Paris, and the England side of Jonny Wilkinson were defending champions.
Also in the England side that day was George Chuter and Paul Sackey.
Chuter, like Sinkler, was a front-row forward while Sackey, like Daly, played in the back three.
Chuter was a product of private school Trinity, while Sackey was state-educated at John Fisher in Purley.
Daly was schooled at Whitgift independent school in South Croydon, where he was part of a very successful generation of players who managed to win two English Schools’ cup finals at Twickenham.
Sinkler attended comprehensive Graveney School, close to his Tooting home – a state school which had no tradition of playing rugby whatsoever.
Sinkler, now 26, was in fact offered scholarship terms to join Daly and his cup-winning team-mates at Whitgift in the Sixth Form, but turned them down to go to Epsom College instead.
On Saturday, south London duo Sinkler and Daly will be hoping that the parallels to 12 years ago go no further.
In the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, England’s opponents were… South Africa. The Springboks won that day, 15-6. England have not made it into a World Cup final since.
This morning, Sinkler and Daly were named by head coach Eddie Jones in an unchanged England XV from that which beat the defending champions New Zealand in last weekend’s semi-final. Sinkler has survived a calf injury scare to be part of the starting team.
Both players owe much to coach Jones’s faith in them, Daly and his powerful left boot, capable of kicking penalty goals from inside his own half, having been accommodated in the side at full-back by the coach, while Jones has tolerated Sinkler’s sometimes short temper on the pitch.
The reward has come in Japan, where Sinkler has stood out as one of the world’s best tighthead prop forwards, and one with deft, soft-touch handling skills and power and pace to deliver try-scoring runs as he did in the quarter-final against Australia.
Daly was coached at Whitgift by Chris Wilkins, still the school’s head of rugby, working on the next generation of cup-winners.
In his schooldays, Daly, now 27, was very much the stand-out player in a side of gifted athletes – including Lawrence Okoye, who competed in the discus final at the 2012 London Olympics, and George Merrick, now a professional lock forward who plays club rugby in France. For his own part, Daly was good enough to play for England age group teams at cricket, as well as rugby.
At Whitgift, Daly tended to play at centre, in the roll captain Owen Farrell has for the current England team.
“He was very competitive and confident in the right way, and also very down to earth so he was always really keen to play for the school, never any issues, about training or anything just loved his rugby and loved playing with his mates,” Wilkins said this week.
“It was pretty obvious he was a quality player, the key thing was to let him develop naturally,” he said.
“We didn’t try and change him too much, just tried to get him to do quick ball, to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and let him play.”
Which will probably be part of Eddie Jones’s game plan for his south London duo on Saturday, when the hope, if not expectation, will be a different end result from 2007.
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