RUGBY ROUND-UP: The club that has dominated local rugby for a decade hopes to restore some pride in their derby against Trinity on Saturday
You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Warlingham in this, the club’s centenary season.
After a decade’s dominance of rugby in and around Croydon, the self-proclaimed “Mighty Warl” overcame particular adversity last season to win their division, and the exciting prize of promotion to a league just six rungs down the ladder from the pinnacle of the Premiership itself.
And then the blazers at Twickenham intervened.
Officials at the RFU decided that, after a couple of all-round wretched covid-affected seasons, it was time for a re-organisation of the county and regional level leagues in which so many local sports clubs compete. When the blazers revealed the outcome of their deliberations, instead of moving up to tier 5 of the rugby pyramid, Warlingham found themselves effectively relegated, to tier 7, in something called Counties 1 Surrey/Sussex.
An exodus of thrusting young players, ambitious to play at the higher level, and a cluster of player-coaches, soon followed.
“The reorganisation was done supposedly to help clubs by reducing match-day travelling, which is fair enough,” one source in the bar at Warlingham’s Hamsey Green clubhouse told Inside Croydon.
“But the reality has been that two other clubs have already dropped out of the division because they can’t field a full team, and we’ve had to cry off two of our fixtures before we got to Christmas.
“It’s gutting. But we’re determined to keep going.”
Warlingham are due to play their first league fixture of 2023 on Saturday, that’s if the pitches hold out after all the rain there’s been – “We might be reduced to playing a game of water polo,” according to one wag. Trinity, Old Mid-Whitgiftians as was, from up the road at Sanderstead, are the scheduled opposition.
Warlingham stand rock bottom of their reconfigured division, on -9pts – after two deductions of 5pts each for failing to fulfil their fixtures. They are therefore 21pts behind the next club but, as is so often the case with the RFU-administered leagues, there’s no clarity on whether or not they face relegation, after the early exit of two other clubs from what is supposed to be a 12-team league.
For Warlingham, which is renowned for having one of the best mini and junior rugby set-ups in the south of England, the First XV is not the be-all and end-all of what they do, but there had been hopes of a jollier set of results in this, their centenary year, than “Played 9, Lost 9”.
Their last game was another derby, against Old Walcountians at the start of December, when they managed to sellotape together a team made up of players some of whom last appeared for the First XV more than a decade ago. The spirit was willing, but the flesh… well, age or lack of fitness, or a bit of both, all started to catch up with them in the second half.
Warlingham actually took an early lead at the Walcs’ Clockhouse ground, and their pack provided some pretty tough defence in the opening exchanges, with the sides close to parity at half-time.
But as tiredness crept in, mistakes started to be made, and Walcountians’ younger side, with fly-half Ross Norton pulling the strings and wings Dom Barnaby and Omari Brown and full-back Hal Mogridge turning on the after-burners to take full sdvantage. There were four tries scored in the final 20 minutes to turn it into a 58-10 rout.
Walcountians, coached by Peter Wrightson, are in their second year at this level, having been promoted from Surrey 1 in 2021, and they enjoyed some decent results before Christmas to sit comfortably in mid-table. On Saturday they host league leaders Hove, who beat them 31-5 on the south coast in October.
That could be a tough one for Walcs. Hove beat Trinity 27-0 at Lime Meadow Avenue last Saturday.
Trinity, promoted from Surrey 1 this season, got off to a flyer with wins in their first two fixtures. But that was against a much-weakened Warlingham and then Walcountians. They then had to wait nearly three months for their next win.
Thanks to the wisdom of the RFU, one tier down is now prosaically called “Counties 2 Surrey”, and is where you will find three more local clubs – Purley John Fisher, Chipstead and Old Whitgiftians – playing their rugby.
This division appears to be working somewhat better than the one above, as it still has all its teams and most have played 12 or 13 games by this mid-point of the season.
Chipstead sit third and PJF fourth in the table, so Saturday’s meeting of the two sides at Parsons Pightle in Coulsdon has the potential to be a cracker, provided the recent heavy rainfall doesn’t force a postponement.
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