Whitgift captain goes from watching in the stands to lifting the Schools Cup at Twickenham

When Whitgift captain Oliver Norris clutched the Under 18s Schools Cup title at Twickenham on Thursday, it rounded off the most incredible script.

The flanker played a starring role as the South Croydon school defeated defending champions Warwick 32-22, opening the scoring inside the opening minute.

But it came eight years after Norris watched on when a Whitgift side featuring Elliot Daly beat Oakham in the 2011 final and the significance of coming full circle was not lost on him.

“I was here watching the first team, my dad was the coach and I was here supporting,” Norris explained.

“It’s just surreal to be back here actually walking out onto the pitch with all the boys around me, especially with a bunch of boys like this. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Almost everyone expected a tight contest at the home of rugby, particularly as the earlier meeting in the season was decided by only four points when Whitgift triumphed 23-19 in September.

And for the most part it was the cagey, nervy fair that had been anticipated, interspersed with moments of genuine quality.

Norris’ opportunistic charge down got the ball rolling, gobbling up the loose ball and setting the tone for what would follow.

But man of the match Ed Dunford played his part from 10 with incisive runs from deep with slick hands in off load situations.

While full-back Ben Fitzgerald handled the kicking duties, Dunford was busy carving open the Warwick defence with precision running.

Indeed he played a major role in the key Charlie Beckett try before the break where his hand-off enabled the centre to race through for their second score of the contest.

Dunford conceded he knew little about it, but Fitzgerald believes it was yet more evidence of the telepathic understanding among the backs to instinctively know where each of them would be.

“I was expecting to get tackled, I wasn’t looking. It’s just how it is, I played with my head up,” Dunford said.

“I think we have that connection in the back-line that we’re always going to know one of us is on the shoulder,” Fitzgerald added.

“It’s like brotherhood and Charlie was there to finish it off which was really good.”

Whitgift embraced what Dunford described as the underdog tag to triumph in a game of small margins.

They were undeterred by the dual set-back of two sin-bins in either half for Joe Vajner and Fitzgerald and even added the all-important try when prop Aristot Benz-Solomon touched down late on despite their numerical disadvantage.

And all three players are now basking in making their own slice of history and writing themselves into the record books.

Captain Norris was full of praise for their game management and believes the experience of going down to 14 players in the semi-final helped them.

Norris said: “We had a sin-bin in the semi-final and I think we controlled that pretty well.

“It’s shutting it down and playing our own tempo, not letting that get in our head. The boys dealt well with it. I think we always knew it was going to be close.”

Fitzgerald added: “It’s nice to have our year now. It’s our legacy. It’s nice not just to be 2010 and 2011 but now 2019 too. It just puts us there as well.

“It was a dream to kick. I walked out onto the pitch before and just got chills all through me.”

Dunford agreed: “It was just a surreal experience going out with the boys for the last time. I really enjoyed every minute of it.”

Perhaps fittingly the last word was left to head coach and director of rugby Chris Wilkins who was keen for his players to soak up the spotlight.

He praised the brilliant support the team enjoyed at Twickenham and was bursting with pride after witnessing his side go down in history on the grandest stage.

“I’m really proud of the boys, it’s been a superb campaign and we’ve developed well as we’ve gone on and just really pleased that they’ll go down in history,” Wilkins said.

“You can’t take this away from the lads and they thoroughly deserve it.”

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