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Dulwich confirmed as schoolboy greats but who sits at the top of the tree?

It is not often that you get to witness a team become a ‘great’ in sport, much less so in school sport, however I had the pleasure to witness such a thing just a few weeks ago at the U18 Daily Mail RBS Schools Cup.

Dulwich College beat Northampton School for Boys 27-17 to lift the trophy but it was not the fact that they were champions or the manner of their performance or even the fact that NSB played so well that Dulwich’s character was truly tested that made them great, no the final was simply the final stepping stone on their road to greatness.

I wrote ahead of the final that Dulwich were 99.9% of the way to becoming schoolboy greats, they had the results; the 2012 Daily Mail Cup and an unbeaten season this year (defeat at St Joseph’s Festival to Millfield aside), they had the attitude; to not just back up a Daily Mail Cup win but to do so in style shows oodles of determination, and they have the player recognition; their three big ball carriers Beno Obano, Josh Ibuanokpe and Jeremy Reason all played in the Aviva Premiership U18 League this season.

The final 0.1% they needed to become greats was simply that they had to win the match and become back to back Daily Mail Cup champions, for no matter how good you are, the history books only show you the winners and losers.

Having won the final they have of course gained their extra 0.1% and can rest happily in the knowledge that they are now schoolboy greats, sitting alongside Oakham, Whitgift and Bradford Grammar School as back to back Under 18 Daily Mail Cup Champions, while the mighty Colston’s side of the early professional era sit untouched at the top with six in a row.

It is a superb achievement for which Head Coach Sam Howard must take great credit as should captain Dom Wroe-Wright. Wroe-Wright is, incidentally, perhaps one of the most wildy underrated players on the circuit, his performances over the last two years have been exceptional and to have churned out a man of the match performance in the final on basically one leg was astounding.

Dulwich’s great strength though has been that they are a team driven my the collective will and efforts of all involved, as such there a number of unsung heroes both in the team and, significantly, on the touchline.

Forwards coach Simon Thomas has been the mastermind behind the Dulwich pack, this pack which has struck fear into the heart of every team and every coach they face, the awesome power, organisation and collective will of this Dulwich pack is unprecedented in the school game at the moment and Thomas deserves much credit for that.

It is that pack though that causes outrage among the supporters of other schools when you say that Dulwich College are a great side. The argument goes that their forward dominated style is too boring and that other sides have played more attractive rugby in the past and that playing style is important when measuring greatness.

In fairness to Dulwich though, they have tried to develop their forward based game of 2011/12 into a more balanced and all round game this season, through the likes of the delightful Ali Neden, and to an extent it has worked, though even Dulwich themselves would never deny that they had fallen back on what they know at times.

For my money though, it is irrelevant, greatness has nothing to do with how you do what you do (provided it all remains in the spirit of the game), greatness is simply about the end product. Take the England team from the 2003 World Cup; were they an exciting side to watch? Not particularly, New Zealand, Wales, Australia and France were all arguably more exciting but England were unquestionably a great side.

Switching sports, take a look at Pete Sampras in tennis or AC Milan of the late 80’s and early 90’s in football, they were often labelled as boring but could anyone ever question their greatness?

Where the debate becomes interesting though is in trying to establish just who the great school teams are and how they rank against each other.

For instance Colston’s run of six Daily Mail Cup’s in a row makes them a great school without doubt but when you consider that each player only gets two years in the 1st XV, three at a stretch, then is the more accurate description that Colston’s had three great teams in a row? That the school was exceptionally great but the three teams were ‘just’ great?

Where does the great unbeaten Tonbridge side from 2005-7 sit in the pantheon of school greats? Or any of the Millfield sides in recent times, do they even have any truly great teams or have they just churned out very very good teams like clockwork without ever becoming great?

This is where the true debate lies, it would be fantastic to get some of your thoughts and opinions on how you define greatness and who the schoolboy greats are and why, and how you rank them. I, in turn, will do my best to respond, I’m sure there are plenty who question my method of judgement!

For now though let us give praise to Dulwich College, schoolboy greats, back to back Daily Mail Cup champions and seemingly with more to come.

By Angus Savage

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