RUGBY ROUND-UP: After two blighted seasons, the past fortnight has demonstrated how resilient the area’s clubs are, with a first Six Nations start for one of their former youth players and two hard-fought derby games which between them were settled by just a couple of points.
The area’s top two sides, Warlingham and Old Walcountians, third and fourth in London 3 South West, met at Hamsey Green and finished the match 19-18, and 14-a-side, while last Saturday Trinity beat Purley John Fisher 16-14 in another thriller.
And while all that was going on, Alex Dombrandt, a product of Warlingham and John Fisher School, was showing what he has to offer at Test match level as he helped England to a dominating victory over Italy in Rome on Sunday.
Dombrandt had played for England before, and impressed, the No8 scoring two tries and being named man of the match in a Twickenham fixture against the Barbarians, as well as making his Test debut against Canada in July.
But the Six Nations, even against Italy, is another step up, and Harlequins’ Dombrandt, 24, rose to the occasion.
The 33-0 win was very much “made in south London”, with Old Whitgiftian Elliot Daly and Tooting’s Kyle Sinckler both scoring tries in the bonus-point rout.
Dombrandt’s rise to international level has, the player admits, been unconventional, by-passing the usual route through a Premiership club’s academy.
Dombrandt is not, of course, the first Warlingham back-rower to play for England in recent history: Chris Robshaw travelled a similar route from Hamsey Green via Harlequins to the national side. Now Dombrandt, alongside his friend and clubmate Marcus Smith, is being tipped as a key part of head coach Eddie Jones’s plans for next year’s World Cup.
Dombrandt “sticks out like a strawberry daiquiri on a trayful of lagers”, according to one Fleet Street pundit last week.
After playing for Warlingham into his teens and turning out for his school side, Dombrandt then went to Cardiff Met University where he continued to enjoy playing cricket to a decent level, and stayed long enough to get a degree, but also to qualify and play for Wales’s under-20s rugby side. A pro contract with Quins followed soon after.
“I’m quite proud of the fact I went down a different route to the norm,” Dombrandt said in an interview with the Grauniad.
“I’m also quite proud of the fact I’ve got a university degree and also managed to come out with a professional contract. For me it was a win-win situation. Rugby’s only going to last for so long, you need something to fall back on.”
In the interview, Dombrandt reflected on the harshness of an academy system which can discard a boy as being not good enough when they are just 13 or 14. “A lot of boys that age, when they don’t get into academies, can think: ‘That’s it.’ Hopefully the fact I’ve gone down a different path will encourage other boys to go down that route as well.”
Dombrandt and his England teammates have an extra week’s recovery before their next Six Nations challenge – when the one-time Cardiff resident will hope to play an important part against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday week.
Meanwhile, Dombrandt’s old club is knocking on the door of promotion once again, after backing up their desperately close win over Walcs with an 18-11 victory over second-placed Weybridge Vandals last Saturday.
The game against divisional newcomers Walcountians was supposed to have been played before Christmas, but was a late postponement because of a covid outbreak.
The Wallington old boys’ club based at Woodmansterne had won Surrey 1 in 2019-20, but had to wait until September 2021 to get their career in the eighth tier of English rugby underway.
A run of four wins through November and December had supercharged Walcountians move up the league table, following up on their 29-15 win over Warlingham at the Clockhouse at the start of the season, when full-back Ross Norton kicked 19 points to add to second-half tries from captain Will Thornton and former Harlequins under-18s hooker Callum Tilleray.
But Warlingham have the best home record in the division this season, with one of the most prolific attacking records and meanest defences in London 3 South West.
It’s a feat all the more impressive since it has been achieved despite the absence of Nick Warren, their director of rugby, who suffered a serious health issue (not covid-related) in the summer.
So when the two sides did get to meet again, it was no surprise that the tight contest saw the lead change hands throughout. The Counts made the breakthrough after 17 minutes when quick second phase ball put winger Dharshan Vadivelu clear to touch down in the corner.
Warlingham replied six minutes later when left wing Tom Webster evaded several attempted tackles to run in a try. The teams were level in another respect after 30 minutes, when Walcountians centre Dany Abou-Zeid and Warlingham full-back Archie Warren were sent off after a scuffle, and the sides went in at half-time locked at 5-5.
Norton put Walcs back in front with a penalty kick early in the second half, but the hosts took the lead for the first time early in the second half in a move from deep in their own 22 which saw Mark Chatfield put scrum-half Alban Edwards in for the try, converted by Joe McEvoy.
An interception try by Ed Bellringer restored Walcountians to the lead – 12-13 – going into the final 10 minutes of the game, where a move off the back of a scrum saw Warlingham snatch the final, and decisive try of the game, which McEvoy, crucially converted.
A try by Walcountians’ flanker Rob Fleming brought his side to within one point of their hosts, but the kick was not converted, and Warlingham hung on to the narrowest of advantages as the final whistle blew.
Brad Saffrey, the Warlingham skipper, described the result as, “A superb effort, really hard work but a great result.”
For injury-ravaged Walcountians, their problems continued to mount with a growing backlog of fixtures: their game with division leaders Petersfield last Saturday was abandoned after just three minutes when the referee suffered a freak injury and could not continue with the match.
Additional reporting: Andrew Sinclair
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