Cranleigh celebrates a rugby centenary today as the school’s first ever fixture was played against Epsom on October 21st 1916. In the last 100 years the sport has gone from strength to strength and Cranleigh now has a fine tradition of rugby success, with the 1st XV widely recognised as one of the strongest in the country. Over the last few years Cranleigh has won several competitions, one national title and produced 14 internationals, playing for Ireland, Wales and New Zealand as well as England.
Current Director of Rugby, Andrew Houston, said: “Rugby at Cranleigh is currently flourishing and we are enjoying success at a variety of levels. The 1st XV had a hugely impressive season last year and were ranked as one of the top rugby sides in the country. The XV’s and Sevens squad combined played 32 matches, losing just four in the eight-month long season!
Andrew Houston (England U16, U18, England Students and London Wasps), himself an Old Cranleighan, added: “Rugby has always been popular here and our philosophy is very much ‘sport for all’ but with the desire to achieve great things. We regularly put out eighteen teams with six senior sides, with the 6th XV being unbeaten last season.”
Since the School opened in 1865, football had been the only sport played over both winter terms but in the summer of 1915 a decision was made to play rugby in the following Lent term. Boys were given rudimentary training in the basics of rugby and it proved hugely popular; although the authorities insisted “it is merely being given a trial”, by the summer it had been decided to abandon football altogether.
“Such was its immediate popularity, at least among those boys old enough to have a say in the matter, that the change was proposed at a Games Committee meeting and loudly acclaimed,” wrote journalist and broadcaster Jim Swanton. The school’s annual magazine, The Cranleighan, evenoffered tips to aspiring players. “Training is essential,” it stated, “and visits to the Tuck Shop before a match are not advised.”
Within a fortnight of the start of the Michaelmas term the 1st XV played and won their opening match against a side raised by John Fawcus, a master at the Junior School who was one of the driving forces behind the switch of codes.
On Saturday, October 21st the first representative school match took place on St Andrew’s against Epsom. Cranleigh won 27-8, running in seven tries after going behind to a try almost from the kick-off. However, the Cranleighan report was far from flattering about the play of the backs. “They lobbed their passes and what little tackling that had to be done was done badly … Kemp at fullback was far from sound while Stachwell , while good as an individual player, was detrimental to the three-quarter combination.” The Epsomian was no less complimentary about their players, the pack singled out as being “useless … they went to pieces and never heeled the ball once”.
Four days later Cranleigh were brought back down to earth when they were thumped 43-3 by a strong Mill Hill XV, their only loss to a school side all season.