Guest post by OWRFC Chairman, Richard Travers
The premature end to the 2019/20 season also marked the end of a decade at the OWRFC. As the oldest member of our current squad (as the boys like to often remind me), I’ve played a role in each of those 10 seasons, as well as a few before!
So, what better way to reflect on the past 10 years than by naming our Old Wimbledonians RFC team of the decade? This is a nice chance to reminisce on some of the club’s more recent successes, and no doubt piss off a few people who don’t make the list in the process (spoiler alert: sorry, Paddy, you’ve not made it!).
This is, of course, a subjective view, with the only criteria being that they’ve played for the First XV in the period between 2010 to 2020. I’ve tried to favour quality and impact over longevity and, as is the way at this level, it’s all about getting your best 15 players on the pitch, so a couple may feel they’ve been picked slightly out of position.
An impressive 11 of this team are Wimbledon College old boys, which shows that our connection to the school within the core player base is still going strong. But, as ever, we’re a club that’s proudly open to all, and each of the non-OWs picked here have made some outstanding contributions to the team as well.
I’ve also taken the opportunity to highlight a few players who are just a bit too young to feature here, but are certainly ones to watch out for next season and beyond, and have the potential to be key members of the squad for the coming decade.
1 – Francis D’Souza (OW)
Frank gave more than 10 years of service to the club, several as Vice-Captain, and is one of only four in this team who featured in both our Surrey Shield triumphs in 2012 and 2014. At loose-head prop, he’s the first name to appear on the team sheet here, as he often was in his playing days too. An ever-present force for the best part of the decade.
2 – Jacob Greasley
Slight in structure, but with a great engine and skillset, Jacob was a key part of our Surrey Shield-winning side in 2012. He preferred the back row, but which hooker doesn’t at this level? Current First XV member Tom Croswaithe came close in a more traditional hooker role, but Jacob just pips it.
3 – Andrew Feeney (OW)
A dynamic ball carrier with good hands made him a very modern prop, and a great dressing room character to boot. We would have liked to have seen more of him in the First XV, but there’s still time left for a career resurgence.
One to Watch – Jordan Hawthorne (OW)
Big J is a young prop who has graduated through the Warriors ranks and has already become a First XV regular for us during his time at university. Here’s hoping that, on his return home post-uni, he can build on his promising start and become a bedrock of the scrum for the next decade.
4 – Aidan O’Brien (OW)
Aidan is our current Vice-Captain and sets an excellent example on and off the pitch for someone so young. He was voted Player of the Season in his debut year with the club, back in 2019, which set the tone for his role in the side. He always makes a big impact both ball-in-hand and in defence, and he’s still got his best years ahead of him.
5 – Stevie Duggan (OW)
Has Stevie ever mentioned he played rugby league for Wales University Students? Well, he did, and he brought the physicality of league into the SW London and Surrey Leagues sporadically for several years. Whilst not having quite the same impact as his brother Jack, he nonetheless proved talismanic in many of the games he played, although he'll probably be disappointed he's been picked in the second row here rather than the back row.
6 – Steve Cruden
Cruden is the thinking man’s player. He plays intelligent rugby and conserves his energy well, popping up at just the right time for meaningful interventions and opportunistic tries. He does the unseen work so well that no one’s ever really quite sure if he’s actually doing it!
7 – Jack Duggan (OW)
Another double Surrey Shield champion in 2012 and 2014, Jack was given the captaincy of the First XV at a young age after being named Player of the Season in 2014. He always brought a reckless disregard for his own wellbeing, common among many open-sides, and carried the team through some tough years.
8 – Craig Starling
Craig captained the OWRFC for several seasons, including the 2014 Surrey Shield victory. He was incredibly consistent and equally comfortable in the second row. Arguably more memorable is Craig’s unparalleled encyclopaedic knowledge of songs, rugby or otherwise, and he never failed to liven up socials, tours, and long coach journeys.
9 – Richard Travers (OW)
This one may raise a few eyebrows, but I’ve got to pick myself, especially as a double Surrey Shield winner! Some people say I had an eye for a gap and the pace to get through it until about 2014, and who am I to argue with them? I was fortunate enough to captain the team for a few years, including the 2012 Surrey Shield triumph.
10 – Harry Tabb (OW)
Harry was the most talented player we had play at the club this decade. He could easily have been the scrum-half of choice here, as well. However, he preferred playing 10 at the OWs and his all-round game and skill set stood him apart from the rest. It was little wonder he went on to test himself at higher levels.
11 – Jamie Crone (OW)
The fourth of our double cup final winners, Jamie had a strong scoring record both from full-back and on the wing. His unmistakable high-knee running style was hard to bring down and, while there may have been more skilful wingers, few could match his try-scoring record.
12 – Mike Ellis (OW)
The gazelle, as my wife calls him because of his smooth running style and long stride, ‘Smellis’ would effortlessly beat defenders with deceptive power and a rocket hand-off. Wingers hated playing outside him, but he was forgiven a lack of passing ability as he came up with the goods himself time and time again. For example, scoring both our tries in the 2014 Surrey Shield final. Unfortunately, his appearances for the club were limited due to bones of glass and emigration to the US.
13 – Rory Southgate
Rory has consistently brought his South African rugby pedigree to the side with gain line-busting runs and massive hits. He captained the First XV for several years and has been a huge off-field presence and organiser, earning the Club Man of the Year award several seasons running.
One to watch: Ed Gardner (OW)
Ed has made a strong start to his OW career with some outstanding performances this past season, including two MOTM nods. A classy operator ball-in-hand, he’s comfortable in several key positions and should be a mainstay for the squad for years to come.
14 – Cormac Healy (OW)
Cormac didn’t play as often as we’d have liked, but he was undoubtedly a top player. Excellent work rate, deceptive pace, and showed versatility across several positions. We’re looking forward to potentially meeting him on the pitch next season with his new team, Met Police.
One to Watch: Cameron Thurtell (OW)
Although he played most of his Warriors rugby either in the second or back row, he’s been plying his trade for the First XV on the wing this past season thanks to his great pace. We could very well be seeing him move deeper into the thick of the action in future, as he develops and adjusts to the rigours of senior rugby.
15 – James Hodgson (OW)
Another player slightly out of his favoured position, but too talented to leave out. 'Hodgy' was a mercurial 10, but equally effective at 15 where his jinking feet regularly got him out of trouble. He was a very important player for us for many years. An honourable mention must also go to Jason Murphy here, who argued a case from 12 through to 15, but whose injury record ultimately saw him miss out.
One to watch: James Murphy (OW)
James has already proved himself a useful addition to the squad over the past couple of seasons and is living up to his surname’s reputation. He has all the skill of his older brother Jason, but with a bigger, stronger frame, and hopefully less propensity to injury. We look forward to seeing much more of him in the back three in future.
Help us Raise Money for a Very Important Cause!
Some of the players named above, alongside a few more of our current First XV squad, will be taking part in a mammoth day of cycling on Saturday, July 4, to raise money for the charity CALM, and to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.
They’ll be cycling to 18 different sporting venues all across London in one day (roughly 130km), and they’d greatly appreciate any donations made to this very important cause. If you’d like to contribute, please visit their JustGiving page here. Thanks!