In 1953, Sherborne achieved arguably its finest hour on the football field when, on Thursday 2 April, at Old Deer Park, it won the Public Schools Sevens tournament.

Sherborne first entered the tournament in 1947 but has won it only once, when in 1953 they defeated their old adversaries Clifton 5-3 in the final.  Just as he had done in the earlier draw, captain Richard Leonard (School House) intercepted a misplaced pass and ran the length of the field to score. Peter Wright (Abbey House) securing the conversion which earned victory.  The other members of the victorious side were Gregory Read and Robin Taylor (both School House) and three Harper House boys, James Tucker, Charles Orr Ewing and David Harrison.  This remains the only time that Sherborne has won this tournament.

The Shirburnian carried a full report of Sherborne’s progress through the tournament:

‘The weather on the first day [1 April] was bad – a full gale with heavy showers at intervals.  The School’s first match was against Crypt, Gloucester, and was a typical first round scramble; Leonard scored early on after a fine run, and in the second half Tucker kicked a penalty goal and scored a try direct from a drop-out from the Crypt twenty-five.  The second round match was against Kingswood and this produced a thrilling struggle.  The School played with the wind in the first half and played very well indeed; tries were scored by Leonard and Tucker, the first being converted by Tucker.

A storm with torrential rain broke in the second half just after Kingswood had scored a try, and conditions became impossible for the School, who had to face the storm.  Kingswood scored a second try about two minutes from the end and afterwards a period of desperate defence followed.  Read hurt his ankle in making a tackle and Leonard winded himself falling against a goalpost; but all ended well.  It would have been desperately unlucky if the School had been beaten in this game as before the conditions became impossible, they looked infinitely the better side.

The gossip in the evening was that Clifton were the likely winners, while most people seemed to think the School had a good chance of reaching the final.  All depended on how serious Read’s injury was (he could hardly walk after the Kingswood game) and on whether our forwards would be able to get enough of the ball for our outsides to make use of their obvious superiority over all others.

Next day the wind was less strong and the pitches had dried up wonderfully.  Read was doubtful about his ankle, but it was decided he should play against Haileybury.  The game was rather a dull and scrappy one; the School cored first through Leonard, and then Haileybury scored a try which was converted.  Wright then scored after a long dribble.  The School did not play well in this game; the forwards were slow and there was too much delay in making tackles.

In the quarter-finals the School met their conquerors of last year, Llandovery, and played very well indeed, although the score was only a goal to a try.  But only really good covering by Llandovery kept the score down.  Tucker scored under the posts in the first half after an inside pass from Wright, and Read converted.  In the second half Llandovery scored an unconverted try.  This win did us all good and we were particularly pleased to see the increased quickness of the forwards, and the fine tackling of the whole side.

The semi-final was against Oudle, whom we had never met before.  Against the wind the School played beautifully in the first half.  Leonard scored an early try after a very good run and then Wright scored a clever try under the posts after working the scissors with Read; the latter failed to convert.  In the second half the forwards lost control and Oundle had most of the play.  Luckily, however, the Oundle three-quarters were slow and the School’s tackling was first class.  Taylor particularly did very good work round the scrum and line-out.  The game ended with the score 6-5.

Before the other semi-final we did not quite see how we could possibly hold Clifton, whose side seemed to have everything – speed, strength, and ability.  But in their game with King Edward’s, Birmingham, serious defensive weakness showed and they were rather lucky to win.  For the first time their forwards were held and they won a desperate match in the last second 13-10.  This game encouraged us to think we had a chance, always provided our forwards could hold on and get a few heels.

The start of the game was sensational. From the first scrum, which took place at about half-way, the Clifton centre, Mallett, went through very fast and scored under the posts.  Luckily the kick was missed, and we breathed again.  If we could survive till half-time and cross round with the wind in our favour and only three points against us, all might be well.  And so it turned out; fine defensive play, particularly by Harrison in the line-out, closed up the game for a vital few minutes.  Read did one very fine tackle, and Taylor and Wright did others.

The School started the second half on the attack, but the forwards did not get much of the ball.  But one heel in front of the posts about twenty yards out gave Read a chance to run to the blind-side; he appeared to have a straight run in, but a superb covering tackle by Mallett saved a certain try.  Clifton returned to the attack. A movement started to their right in midfield; a wild pass was made to their wing.  Leonard intercepted and, in a flash, he was clear and racing for the posts with no Clifton player even chasing him.  With Read’s effort in the Oundle match in mind, Wright was detailed to take the kick.  With the School supporters hardly able to watch, he quickly placed the ball and, in dead silence, kicked it over the middle.  The cheer that followed might have been heard in Sherborne.

Then followed two or three minutes of the most exciting football imaginable.  Clifton pressure was only relieved by penalties, which Read kicked beautifully.  But back Clifton came and once or twice it seemed as though they must score.  A great tackle by Orr-Ewing on the left and another by Harrison in the middle saved dangerous situations.  And all the outsides tackled and covered wonderfully.  A relieving kick by Read took the game back to the half-way line and then the whistle went and the game was over – and swarms of people rushed across the ground to congratulate the players.  Leonard was chaired by some enthusiasts and his head appeared above the crowd looking embarrassed and shame-faced!

When the excitement died we spent the evening discussing how we had won.  Good luck – yes, but that is necessary for any side to win the competition; good tactics – yes, and it was good to see the plan, worked out and developed in the last two years, producing such successful results.  But neither of these factors were the decisive ones, which were superb tackling, the speed and combination of the outsides, the fine spirit of the whole team and their absolute refusal to be beaten.  No individual could be singled out above the others; Leonard, Wright and Read all played at the top of their form, although the latter was slowed up by his damaged ankle.  Taylor was a great success at scrum-half; his passing was quick and accurate and his defence first-class.  The forwards, Harrision, Orr-Ewing and Tucker were young and rather inexperienced.  But each carried out his particular job with enthusiasm and determination, and each played his part in the final victory, which was earned by the combined efforts of all seven.’

SCORES:

  • Crypt, Gloucester: 9-0
  • Kingswood: 8-6
  • Haileybury: 11-5
  • Llandovery: 5-3
  • Oundle: 6-5
  • Clifton: 5-3

THE SHERBORNE TEAM:

  • Richard John Nicholl Leonard (capt.) attended Sherborne School (School House) 1948-1953, School Prefect, XV 1951, 1952, shooting viii 1951, 1952.  Rugby Blue 1957.  England Trial XV 1957.
  • Gregory Read attended Sherborne School (School House) 1948-1952, XI 1952, XV 1951, 1952 (capt.), Hockey 1952.
  • Peter Michael Wright attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) 1948-1953, Exhibitioner, Head of House, Head of School, XI 1953 (capt.), XV 1952, Hockey 1952, 1953 (capt.).
  • Robin Taylor attended Sherborne School (School House) 1949-1953.
  • James Duncan Ferguson Tucker attended Sherborne School (Harper House) 1950-1954, XI 1952, 1953, 1954, XV 1953, Hockey 1953.
  • Charles David Orr Ewing attended Sherborne School (Harper House) 1950-1954, XV 1952, 1953.
  • David Roger Harrison attended Sherborne School (Harper House) 1950-1955, School Prefect, XV 1952, 1953, 1954. Athletics Blue, Shot and Discus.

Further reading:
The early days of rugby at Sherborne School
Playing Fields & Pavilions
A.B. Gourlay, A History of Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1971).
D.F. Gibbs, A History of Football at Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1983).
Robert Hands, Rugby Football at Sherborne School  (Sherborne, 1991).

For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist.

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