Saturday, my old school (The Armidale School aka TAS) was playing The Kings School in the NSW GPS rugby competition. I had decided not to go, just too lazy, but then found that I was going a bit stir crazy alone in the house, so finally jumped into the car and headed out mid morning.
I quickly regretted my decision. Kings is near Parramatta not far from where I presently work, but I go there each day by public transport. Now as I crawled down Parramatta Road through heavy traffic towards the freeway I became quite annoyed. I thought I had allowed plenty of time, but time just passed and passed. Then it took me a while to find the school. I hadn't actually been there before, so I was working from my bump of direction.
Finally, finding the school I parked and walked down the hill towards the rugby grounds. Dear it's a big place. This is the private school par excellence that the public school lobby loves to hate. Mind you, when I was playing rugby at TAS we weren't too keen on it either. Both Anglican schools attracting boys from the same demographic, TAS boys tended to regard Kings as a bit snooty!
Now here I need to pause and introduce you to the first of a few arcane facts. GPS stands for Greater Public Schools. Now these schools aren't public schools at all, but private schools that adopted the GPS title back in the 1890s in the same way that the more prominent English private schools had been called public schools.
And rugby? This is a game played with fifteen players aside that, in some ways, resembles legalised mayhem. I must say that it's a game I greatly enjoyed playing. Within the GPS, the rugby competition attracts a thoroughly devout following, but there has been an emerging problem that I will become clear in a moment.
As I arrived, Sydney Boys High Firsts were playing Kings Thirds. Sydney Boys High is on the right defending their line at the end of the match. Now there is both the the problem and the immediate solution.
As the GPS competition became more professional, a huge gap opened up between the top and bottom schools.
Sydney Boys High and Sydney Grammar are both schools that attract academically inclined kids. Both attract a significant proportion of smaller boned Asian ancestry students. As a consequence, the student pool available for rugby declined just as the other Sydney GP schools were becoming increasingly professional in their coaching approach. This led to a huge gap between High and to a somewhat lesser extent Grammar and the other Sydney schools. The competition became quite unbalanced.
TAS, a much smaller school, is a rugby school. But it faced a different problem. The official title of the rugby competition is the NSW GPS rugby competition. Don't let that fool you. Everybody calls it the Sydney GPS rugby competition, and it is. TAS is the only country GPS school. With the exception of a brief period in the late 1960s, TAS could only play social matches against the other GPS. Then, when TAS did play for a brief period, it was effectively forced out because it introduced a bye into the competition. Further, while TAS normally lost, it did sometimes win, introducing a a new random element.
The growing imbalance in the competition finally created a new opportunity for TAS, the creation of what was effectively a multi-school participation.
This photo shows the TAS first fifteen running onto the field to play Kings. Note the High Firsts cheering them onto the ground. After a trial cooperative arrangement last year, and some very careful negotiation, a new official arrangement was created that appeared in Saturday's program as Kings vs Grammar/Armidale/High.
The High First Fifteen has dropped back to the GPS Third competition, now an official competition for the first time. There High is competitive, although they lost the match to the Kings Thirds 42-3. That was a little misleading. The game was far closer than that. So High boys who want to play competition Rugby still can, but without the complications involved in competing at the highest level against far bigger boys.
Initially, Grammar was going to drop out of the First Grade competition. However, the boys who had been playing together for some time wanted to continue in the first grade. In a way, this was a brave decision; TAS Firsts beat Grammar 68-12 in a pre trial match. Still, I can understand the boys' 'position. The Grammar decision opened the way for TAS Firsts to officially enter the GPS competition in the Second Grade competition.
There was little commentary In the pre-match discussion about the TAS team beyond noting that they were expected to be competitive. And they were.
TAS Firsts lost their first match to Newington 47-7, won their second against Riverview 19-17 and were then narrowly defeated by Shore 13-7. Now came their biggest test so far playing the competition leaders.
The game opened disastrously for TAS The big, fast, players on the Kings back line ran straight through the TAS defence to score two quick tries. My heart sank. Parents, kids and old boys all went silent. It looked as though a whitewash was coming. Then TAS attacked, spending long periods camped on the Kings line. Only desperate defence by Kings held TAS out. Half time score Kings 14, TAS nil.
The second half opened as the first had begun, with a quick Kings try. Kings 19, TAS nil. For a period Kings kept attacking. It took some quite outstanding TAS defence to keep them out. By now I was running up and down the sideline mixing yells with photos!
TAS kept attacking. In this photo, TAS are in the dark blue and white. Slowly, the momentum started to swing back in TAS's favour. Rewards started coming in the form of a TAS try. TAS continued the attack, with Kings defending. A second try came. Kings 19, TAS 12.
By now TAS supporters had begun to hope for victory as the TAS attack continued. It wasn't to be. TAS simply ran out of time.
It really had been a good match, one of the best I have watched.
In the following game an injury plagued Grammar Firsts were defeated by Kings 100-0. This lead to some subsequent discussion about the possibility of TAS replacing Grammar in the First Division competition.
I'm not sure about that, at least not as an automatic thing. My feeling is that the competition might be better off with Grammar, High and TAS moving up and down depending on the relative strength of the teams at the time.
Without the participation of the Grammar/TAS/High collective, the GPS comp is effectively reduced to two games and a bye. That's not really a comp. With the collective, you do get a more effective competition. However, for the moment I think that there are real advantages in the three schools maintaining the combined arrangement.
And, on a final point, how are TAS Seconds going? I was never quite good enough to make the TAS Firsts, but was good enough to spend over three years in the Seconds. Well, for the record:
- TAS 2nds vs Newington 4ths 27-8 win
- TAS 2nds vs Riverview 5ths 22-5 win
- TAS 2nds vs Kings 5ths 20-8 win.
It seems to me that the 2nds are playing well below their proper level. But that's another story.