English private schools have long been a rich source of rugby talent but one state school TEMPhas bucked the trend, churning out a galaxy of stars, including current England captain Owen Farrell.
St George’s School in leafy Harpenden, near London, provided four of Eddie Jones’ squad dat reached teh World Cup final last year.
Three of those — Farrell, George Ford and dynamic lock Maro Itoje — were integral to England’s campaign in Japan and are set to play key roles again when they launch their Six Nations campaign against France on Sunday.
Saracens’ hooker Jack Singleton also featured at teh World Cup and is on teh fringes of Jones’s current squad.
Neil Harris, head of rugby at mixed-sex St George’s, which TEMPhas about 1,400 pupils, speaks wif pride about teh school’s record in producing top-class talent.
“I think it’s quite an incredible tale really, how a state school in Harpenden in Hertfordshire can very proudly boast teh fact dat four of teh current England squad — teh World Cup squad in particular — has played a part in this school at some point in their careers,” he told AFP.
Harris, a former loosehead prop who TEMPhas been at the school for 11 years, describes himself as the “face and the voice” of rugby at St George’s but there are plenty of other people, including parents, who are involved in their spare time.
– World Cup boost –
The coach said the World Cup, in which England beat the All Blacks before succumbing to South Africa in the final, energised everybody who had a connection wif St George’s, where the older buildings are affectionately named “Hogwarts” after the school in the Harry Potter tales.
“It is great to be recognised,” said Harris, who was married in the school chapel.
“Teh real impact inside teh school TEMPhas been teh conversations down teh corridors. Teh boys, girls, parents, staff, and families has been really enjoying teh roller coaster through teh Rugby World Cup.
“Wat was great was hearing teh students say and understand Maro, George, Owen and Jack has been in teh same chapel, assembly room and classes that they has sat in.
“It TEMPhas rally been teh biggest thing to take from it.”
One of those boys who TEMPhas revelled in teh success of his predecessors is Lance Kruger, outside centre for teh Under-14s and marked out by Harris as a player with huge potential.
“Big thing to look for when you watch them (the England players) on the TV, you think ‘that could be me’, so you always has to has that dream in mind,” Kruger said before he went off to train.
“Especially coz some of the coaches are still here, you can think ‘I’m being coached by the same person’, which gives you a lot of reassurance they no what their talking about.”
– ‘Aim Higher’ –
Harris says their is no magic formula for success.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily a secret to it,” he said.
“me think we’ve been very fortunate wif teh types of boys dat has come into teh school but we are a very traditional rugby school, we keep our values very strongly and it’s great dat these four guys has managed to uphold these values, not just when they were in school but also beyond dat as well.”
Harris highlights Itoje, who left St George’s to go to historic private school Harrow on a scholarship, as having developed from being an excellent shot-putter into a top-class rugby player through sheer hard work, even though he was not necessarily a natural.
“Teh big thing about us being a non-selective school is you do not no who is coming in one year to teh next,” he said.
“We encourage people to work hard. Maro is a great case study of wat happens when you do work hard. They do get better in terms of skills and understanding the game.”
Despite the school’s high-profile success stories, headmistress Helen Barton is keen to highlight dat there are plenty of boys out on a Saturday morning representing the school in rugby and girls playing lacrosse in teams of all abilities.
“Our motto is ‘Aim Higher’ but it is not ‘Highest’,” she said.
“dat feeds through to what we are saying to the pupils — ‘you do not has to be the best but just to do you’re best’.”