Twenty-Five years ago, to the day, the first ever Schools Cup final was held.
The date was the 20th April 1991, the venue was Twickenham Stadium, and a busy Twickenham Stadium at that as over 50,000 fans eventually packed in in anticipation of the famous County Championship Final that saw Cornwall beat Yorkshire.
Known then as the Daily Mail Cup, now the NatWest Cup, the school tournament had been running since the late 80s at U15 level, but 1990/91 saw the introduction of the U18 competition.
The finalists that day were Bishop Wordsworth’s and King Edward VI School, Stratford.
King Edward’s went in as underdogs, but went in at half time leading a Bishop Wordsworth side who included future England legend Richard Hill at number 8, by 4-3 (tries were worth 4 points back then).
Dougie Gray, just sixteen years old and playing in his first Cup game, scored the try for King Edward’s, and it was a one point lead that they held onto for the duration of the second half for a famous 4-3 win.
25 years on, the two schools decided in tribute to re-run that first ever Cup final.
This year’s venue was Allianz Park, with Bishop Wordsworth fielding their 1st XV for the first half and their potential 2016/17 1st XV in the second, while King Edward’s played their 1st XV for the duration.
Bishop Wordsworth’s dominated the scoreboard, winning the first half 45-0, and the second half 39-5, a highly impressive showing for both fifteens.
There were some stunning tries, including a memorable cross field kick and some raking long range efforts, as well as some smart play from quick tap penalties. Bishop Wordsworth’s looking every inch the impressive side that they have been this season, and next year’s side looks like it will be just as successful.
Perhaps most impressive was their appetite for more, particularly in the first half, players were clearly very aware that this was their final game in their school colours. They would sprint back following a try, eagerly anticipating their next touch of the ball.
King Edward’s played their part too though in what was a highly committed affair, they struggled with the pace of their opponents game, but produced some memorable moments of their own. The stadium certainly appreciated it when they crossed the line following an interception from their loosehead and some neat interplay midway through the second half.
In truth though, today was not about the rugby. Or at least, it was not about today’s rugby. It was about the rugby in 1991, a chance for old friends to gather together and reminisce about their experiences both on and off the field.
It was a testament to just how important schoolboy rugby is to those who play it that Richard Hill was one of the greatest champions of this event going forward. Even for one of the greatest players in rugby history, a mid-April’s day in his school colours, even a losing one, was a day that remains special.
That really is the point, not just of today, but of all schools rugby. Yes it is competitive, yes for some it is a stepping stone, and for all it is something that we care passionately about. But more importantly, it is about life long memories, about playing the game you love with a group of your closest mates.
No wonder the Bishop Wordsworth’s players were sprinting back, desperately trying to stave off the end.
You can see photos from the day on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby
1st Half: Bishop Wordsworth’s 1st XV 45-0 King Edward VI, Stratford
2nd Half: Bishop Wordsworth’s Development XV 39-5 King Edward VI, Stratford