After a closely contended first twenty minutes Cranleigh School hit a purple patch either side of half-time to pull clear of Whitgift School, en route to a 42-12 win
As we move into December the neutral spectator faces some difficult choices in deciding which match to choose, with many schools fitting traditional rivalries into one of the final Saturdays of term. However, Whitgift’s visit to Cranleigh was one that really caught the eye and was quickly inked in as a must-see when reviewing the fixtures at the start of term, with these two schools potentially vying for bragging rights as the top side in Surrey. The home side have played some top schools with wins over Brighton and Epsom early in the season but a quieter period in their fixture list has meant that they are not challenging for top spot in the Daily Mail Trophy. The visitors have maintained their traditional fixture list with a strong focus on the NatWest Schools Cup.
A sunny afternoon in the lee of the Surrey Hills as usual made for a perfect setting, and with virtually no wind and a firm playing surface conditions could not have been better, as Whitgift kicked off, the kick being well secured by Cranleigh second row Benji Carr. Good ball retention saw the home side break out of their half, with centre Harry Barlow taking the ball into the Whitgift 22 before finishing the sequence with a clean break and a try on the left. Jamie Barden was successful with the conversion.
Whitgift will have been alive to the risk of going a score down early on and did not take long to respond. Although pressure following a Whitgift attacking lineout was relieved with a clearance kick to half way, the respite was temporary with successive carries by prop Jacob Morris taking play back into the Cranleigh half. Pressure by Whitgift saw them win two penalties, from the second of which an attacking line-out was set up on the right. A tremendous driving maul ensued and second row George Hammond secured the try, full-back Joe Parkes converting to level the scores.
Momentum remained for the moment with the visitors and good hands on the right took play close to the Cranleigh line but a knock-on allowed the defence to clear. Good offloading again gave Whitgift field position and, although possession was initially lost, a Cranleigh knock-on provided the chance for set piece ball. The scrum was duly won and the ball moved through the hands to the right enabling centre Reece Brown to cut through to score and give Whitgift the lead. This was short-lived however, as after Whitgift had conceded a penalty from the restart, Cranleigh took play to the 22 and the ball, perhaps a little fortuitously, came to Barden who ran in unopposed to score and convert.
Cranleigh were now starting to go through the gears and excellent handling looked to have put Barlow in to score in the right corner, but he was just stopped. However possession was maintained and powerful second row Hugh Tizard crashed over to score, with Barden adding the touchline conversion. As half-time approached the cloud obscured the sun and it suddenly got darker. Whitgift’s fortunes were not improved as Morris went off with an injury, and Cranleigh began to stretch their lead, Tizard combining with No 8 Hayden Hyde on the left before play was switched to the right, and Barlow claimed his second try in the corner. Barden confirmed that he had his kicking boots on with another touchline conversion.
Half-time: Cranleigh School 28-12 Whitgift School
Although Morris returned to the field after the interval, Whitgift lost another key forward to injury when Hammond was forced to leave the field. Cranleigh kept up the pressure with an attacking line-out on the left after good work by wing Oscar Beard, and they showed that their driving maul too is a potent weapon, as play was taken to the line and replacement second row Sam Davies plunged over, Barden again converting.
Further phases of Cranleigh pressure were followed by a long injury stoppage and, after a replacement had been summoned from the Whitgift 2nd XV, a long penalty advantage resulted in another attacking Cranleigh line-out in the right corner. From the ensuing maul the ball was put through the hands into midfield and Barlow cut through for his third try, Barden maintaining his perfect record from the tee.
Whitgift’s injury woes continued with Morris leaving the field for good, but despite that and the substantial points gap on the scoreboard they stuck to their task, resisting all attempts by Cranleigh to increase their lead further and achieving some parity in the final quarter. With the increasing darkness and the result not in doubt it was something of a relief to hear the final whistle without further addition to the injury toll.
This was a game of the highest quality especially in the first half. It was undoubtedly influenced in the latter stages by injuries to key Whitgift players but the result was already decided by excellent Cranleigh play either side of half-time. Whitgift will hope that Morris and Hammond are fit to return to the side in time for their NatWest U18 Schools Cup Quarter Final visit to Bishop Wordsworth in January. Cranleigh look to complete a 100% winning record for the season when they visit Marlborough for their final game of the term.
Full time: Cranleigh School 42-12 Whitgift School
Cranleigh School: Dylan Stingemore, Ollie Mitchell, Ollie Gook, Benji Carr, Hugh Tizard, Niall Richardson, Bear Williams, Hayden Hyde, Harry Serjeant, Sam Lubbock, Oscar Beard, Harry Barlow, Jamie Barden, Tom Hemming, Josh Wilkinson
Replacements: Sam Davies, Jasper Sykes
Whitgift School: Jacob Morris, Taine Wagstaff, Jonathan Benz Salomon, Maximilian Greatwood, George Hammond, Oliver Norris, Jake Monson, Harry Dugmore, Rory Hazelton (Capt), Ed Dunford, Charlie Cadogan, Reece Brown, Adefela Lipede, Taino Goveia, Joe Parkes
Replacements: Jakob Madsen-Jensen