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The time for Dulwich College to become greats has arrived

Not long after last year’s Under 18 Daily Mail Cup final I wrote a piece about the winners, Dulwich College. In it I said that they were on the verge of becoming one of the great school sides, they had won 24 out of 27 matches, had won the Daily Mail Cup, with a predominantly young side, and their players were gaining professional recognition.

Well I write today having been at Broadstreet RFC this weekend to watch the semi finals of the U18’s Daily Mail Cup & Vase competition where again Dulwich progressed to the final, beating a very talented Hampton School side 11-5.

It was a quite wonderful weekend of rugby, all four games were incredibly tight, in fact if you add up the scores of all the winning side against all the losing sides, the winners would only have it by sixteen points.

Felsted v St Ambrose College in the Vase was the game of the weekend in terms of tries but the truth is that Dulwich v Hampton was the tie of the weekend in terms of sheer rugby ability and intensity.

Yarm’s 8-5 victory over Plymouth College in the Vase was another intense and exciting game, it was not one for those who love attacking rugby but the sheer bloody-mindedness and commitment from each defence was incredible. Zach Kibirige is also well worth keeping an eye on for anyone who is at Twickenham on the 23rd.

Northampton School for Boys are the side that will be facing Dulwich in the Cup final, they struggled a bit to contain Warwick School for the first 50 odd minutes but their play in the last twenty was scintillating, their defence is simply sublime and if they can unleash some of their attacking potential they are a huge threat to Dulwich’s title challenge.

Back to Dulwich and that title challenge though, they are now just 70 minutes away from confirming themselves as the great side that I said they have the opportunity to become, win that Cup final at Twickenham on the 23rd March and they undoubtedly become schoolboy greats.

It is beating Northampton that is perhaps their greatest challenge though, undoubtedly Northampton are a talented side and it will take all of Dulwich’s considerable prowess to beat them, but they will also be playing the record books and that brings an added pressure of its own.

Playing for place at the table of great schoolboy rugby sides is a serious challenge though but this side has the tools to meet that challenge. Nine of the side that started the semi final on Saturday were in the squad for the final against Old Swinford Hospital last year. That experience of playing under pressure in an unfamiliar environment will be invaluable, no other side has that.

I spoke last year about the fact that at schoolboy level there are three major contributory factors towards greatness as a school side: Results, Attitude, and Player Recognition.

Well this year their record is even greater than last year; they have won 21 of their 23 matches this season, losing one and drawing the other. The draw and defeat came against Wellington and Millfield, probably the only two sides in the country who can claim to be at the same level as Dulwich this season. That defeat must also be remembered in context, it was at the St Joseph’s festival, where games are just 10 minutes each way.

Add those results onto last years’ and you can see that in terms of results they certainly live up to the measure of greatness. As far as attitude goes, that again cannot be questioned, the resolve and dedication required not to rest on their laurels after last season’s success but to push on and become, in my opinion, a better side speaks volumes.

It is not just that Dulwich have beaten quality sides either, it is that in the tight games, not that there have been many, they have come out on top, beating Tonbridge 24-20 and Hampton 11-5 on Saturday. That 13-13 draw with Wellington also demonstrates that this side simply does not allow itself to lose the tight ones.

The third aspect, player recognition, is perhaps the area where those who contend Dulwich’s claims to greatness may point to as a weakness. Having said that, in Beno Obano, Josh Ibuanokpe and Jeremy Reason they have players who have all been in England squads and have all been involved in the Under 18 Aviva Premiership this season, so it is a rather dubious criticism.

The argument goes that other schools have had more players involved in the Under 18 league, which is certainly true, however how the likes of the two Dom’s, Wroe Wright and Fraser, have not been recognised further is somewhat mysterious.

It should also be remembered that this Dulwich side plays a game that you do not often see in schoolboy rugby, but it is that that makes it so impressive, it is a forward dominated style of play with a huge emphasis on doing the right job for the team.

As such there are a number of unsung hero’s in the side, the likes of halfbacks Toby Anthony and Ed Parsons, and Patrick Stuff in the second row. Ali Neden meanwhile is a gem of a player and with a bit of luck in the growth department he could yet go further.

All of the stats and opinions in world are useless though if they do not get over that winning line on the 23rd March for in the harsh world of defining greatness those are the standards that are set, doing 99.9% of the necessary work to be great is not enough, only 100% will do, and winning that second Daily Mail Cup final in a row is that 0.1% that they simply must achieve.

Angus Savage

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