RUGBY ROUND-UP: Warlingham kicked off the club’s centenary season in some style, celebrating finishing the season as London South-West Div 3 champions without having to make a tackle in anger.
In an extraordinary turn of events, Warlingham took their regional division without having to play their last two fixtures. Their opposition for both games, first Basingstoke and then Old Emanuel, called in to say that they couldn’t fulfil their fixture.
Warlingham were awarded the points for each game, but the position at the top of the table was delicately balanced.
It made for an agonising wait for a couple of hours at Hamsey Green, with a host of former players in the clubhouse bar in their stripey blazers, anxiously waiting on the results to trickle in, by phone and text messages from the rest of the league.
When the RFU website confirmed that Petersfield had beaten previous table-toppers Weybridge Vandals 36-33, it meant that Warlingham had snatched the title, but by the narrowest of margins, on points difference, with the top three clubs separated by just a single league point.
In fourth place were divisional newcomers Old Walcountians, who finished off an outstanding first season at this level by unwittingly delivering a couple of favours to local rivals Warlingham. Not only did Walcountians beat Petersfield towards the end of March, but Emanuel were on the end of a 79-point walloping from the ‘Counts in their penultimate game, which probably went a long way to persuade Old Emanuel that they didn’t fancy playing their final fixture against Warlingham.
When they were able to play, through February and March, Warlingham proved to be on a hot streak of form, winning 31-0 at Portsmouth (in what turned out to be their last game of the league season), after having won 29-3 at Old Georgians, 34-8 at Alton and, crucially, 19-17 at Petersfield a week just after beating Weybridge 18-11 at Hamsey Green.
And all this accomplished in the first full season for three years, and after Director of Rugby Nick Warren has been sidelined with a serious illness, with John Hosken stepping into the breach.
Brad Saffery, the first XV skipper, told Inside Croydon, “It’s been a long season and it was frustrating we didn’t play the last two games, but to win the league after the last two covid-affected seasons is very satisfying.”
It had been a successful season for several local sides: Trinity finished runners-up in Surrey 1 (Purley-John Fisher were fifth, Old Whitgiftians eighth), Chipstead won Surrey 2, and Streatham-Croydon have managed to drag themselves out of lowly Surrey 4 by winning that division.
Walcountians’ achievements, after having to wait two years because of covid to step up to the regional division, were particularly noteworthy.
Under joint coaches Peter Wrightson and Dave Rees, they were often playing flowing, running rugby at Clockhouse, with Seb Chmielinski the top try-scorer with 12 and Ross Norton’s boot accumulating 196 points over the winter.
“Winning Surrey 1 and getting promoted to London 3 was a proud moment for the first XV and the club as a whole,” captain Will Thornton told Inside Croydon, “but with the pandemic hitting and stopping all rugby for a year, it made this season even more of an unknown.
“Our aims were to stay up and give a good account of ourselves, but as the year went on, we kept on winning and the four games we did lose were very close.
“Finishing fourth in London 3 is the achievement I’m most proud of in my time as first XV captain and makes next season even more of an exciting prospect, as we know now that the league is there for the taking.”
All of the area’s clubs are looking forward to the brief Sevens season, while waiting for the RFU to ponder how to handle divisional organisation for next season, and make final decisions on promotion and relegation issues.
Additional reporting: Tom Downes
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