Rugby's breeding grounds

(Rugby News Service) Friday 2 September 2011
Rugby's breeding grounds
RWC 1987 winner Gary Whetton studied at Auckland Grammar School

AUCKLAND, 2 Sept. - When a South African, French or Australian XV takes the field there is, of course, plenty of cheering in the clubhouses of Bloemfontein, Biarritz and Brisbane. But somewhere in those rugby hotbeds, there’ll be a headmaster or PE teacher swelling with pride.

Look at the pen portraits of international sides and, under ‘Education’, a few names crop up with startling regularity.

Schools and universities have traditionally been the nursery of young players and still play a major role in these days of club academies.

For instance, New Zealand’s Auckland Grammar School, the alma mater of explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, can lay claim to providing the most All Blacks over the years, with 52 internationals among its alumni.

As well as legends past and present such as Wilson Whineray, Kel Tremain and Doug Howlett, the All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, began his coaching career here. His charges included players who went on to Webb Ellis Cup glory in 1987 such as fly half Grant Fox and the Whetton brothers, flanker Alan and lock Gary.

Another ex-Grammar pupil, prop John Drake (who died in 2008 aged just 49), was also in the winning side. John Boe, who toured France with the All Blacks, went on to coach Samoa at the 2003 World Cup.

Elsewhere in New Zealand, scores of Wellington College and Christchurch Boys High pupils have gone on to don the black jersey.

Springbok heritage

Over in South Africa, the old boys of Paarl Gymnasium High School, east of Cape Town, could form a pretty handy XV comprising Springboks such as Schalk Burger, Pieter Rossouw and Kobus Wiese. Another Western Cape school, Paul Roos Gymnasium, is named after the captain of the first Springbok side to tour the UK.

Jake White, South Africa’s victorious coach in 2007, first took charge of Johannesburg schools Parktown and Jeppe.

While coaching and facilities are obvious factors in making a rugby citadel, often the most successful schools simply have such vast numbers to choose from. Bucking the trend is England’s Sedbergh School. Nestled in the Cumbrian fells, the school, with only 300-odd boys on its register, can count 32 old boys who have gone on to represent their country, the most notable being Will Carling (1991 and 1995 World Cups) and 2003 World Cup-winner Will Greenwood.

When it comes to punching above their weight, the club side of Barkers' Butts in Coventry can claim to be a fertile ground for red rose prospects – this was where Neil Back, Danny Grewcock and present England flanker Tom Wood learned their rugby.

Although talented young players these days are swiftly recruited to club academies, university rugby in the UK was traditionally a staging post for future internationals. In the Varsity Match of 1984, for instance, Cambridge fielded Rob Andrew and Gavin Hastings, who would go on to play with distinction for England and Scotland (each featured in the first three World Cups); Ireland’s Hugo MacNeill played on the Oxford side.

Oxbridge tradition

Such was the standing of Oxbridge during the 1980s that in 1987, World Cup-winning captain David Kirk promptly set off for a postgraduate spell at Oxford. His peers included two players who also appeared in that tournament, Bill Campbell (Australia) and Brendan Mullin (Ireland), while Bill Calcraft had been capped by Australia, Rob Egerton played in the Wallabies’ 1991 winning side and prop Victor Ubogu went on to represent England.

In Wales, Brynteg can claim to be a finishing school, having produced JPR Williams and Rob Howley, while Llandovery College will have Andy Powell and Alun Wyn Jones to cheer in New Zealand.

Across the Irish Sea, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution has produced 76 internationals. South of the border, Dublin’s Blackrock College was responsible for the formative years of a certain Brian O'Driscoll.

In Australia, names such as St Joseph's Nudgee (Brisbane), St Ignatius’ (Sydney) and St Edmund’s (Canberra) dominate. However, it is worth singling out the achievement of Scotch College in Melbourne. Though situated in Australian rules-mad Victoria, it has turned out four Wallabies: Ewen McKenzie, David Fitter, Andrew Heath and Richard Harry.

RNS ig/sw/gs/sg