Hill reflects on Bishop Wordsworth's class of '91

  • Richard Hill played in the first national schools final
  • Hill went on to earn 71 caps for England 

Richard Hill remembers the match very clearly even if the afternoon at Twickenham was some 25 years ago when he was a fledgling flanker stepping out on the path to England glory.

The match in question is the first national schools final when Bishop Wordsworth’s of Salisbury lost 4-3 to King Edward VI of Stratford.

And a quarter of a century later Hill’s old school are once more prominent in the under-18s section of this season’s NatWest Schools Cup.

Bishop’s have reached their first quarter-final since Hill’s team were runners up and face The Judd School from Tonbridge, on Wednesday 18 January, for a place in the semi-finals against champions Bromsgrove on 4 March.

"Players have to enjoy their rugby"

Hill remains a regular visitor to the school and is also helping the Salisbury junior club, who he played for in his youth days, in a fund raising campaign.

As a Cup veteran, including the triumphant World Cup campaign of 2003, he has some succinct advice for all teams left in this national competition which embraces the under-15 and under-18 age groups.

“You must enjoy it if you are a player or coach,” he said. “The games may become more serious as the competition progresses but players have to enjoy their rugby.

“I remember my school teams and it was the experience of playing together and developing as a team.”

As for the tactics, Hill is an advocate for getting the basics right. “Don’t over complicate things. Don’t do something you haven’t done before. You don’t have to pull rabbits out of the hat all the time,” he explained.

Hill’s own experience of the schools cup ended in a Twickenham appearance as the final in 1991 was a curtain raiser to the county championship final between Cornwall and Yorkshire.

That match – which Cornwall won 29-20 after extra time – attracted a capacity crowd then of 56,000 to HQ. “It was great to play at Twickenham as none of our team had played there before,” he added.

“Even by the time our game kicked off there was a good crowd in the stadium because in those days the country championship final attracted big numbers.

“It was an incredible experience to be involved. We loved it. The Cup run put us on a different level of playing and it pulled us all together."

"We weren't a renowned school"

However, Hill grimaces at the memory of the final result. A 4-3 defeat in the days when a try was worth four points.

“It remains a tragic scoreline. We played well enough to win, if I remember, but sadly we did not take our opportunities.  That’s the story of the game,” he said.

“I remember the cup run very well, to be fair. Whilst we were a rugby-playing school weren’t necessarily really renowned as one of the top schools.

“We played most of that season as the underdogs. We played RGS High Wycombe in the last 16 who were inspired by a certain Matt Dawson.

“Again, we were reading in the paper about how they were going to come down to our ground and were going to win, but we got on top of them.

“In the quarter-finals, we had to play Exeter College who had a very strong pack and were very much a forward orientated team and we were meant to lose to them.

“However, on the day we won a match in which we did not win a scrum. But we managed some incredible defence against a pack who included Darren Crompton, the former Bath prop.

“That win over Exeter took us up to the old Castlecroft schools centre where the semi-finals were played and we managed to beat Reigate Grammar School who also fancied their chances against us but we hung on again.

“So we eventually went into the final as favourites at Twickenham on the biggest stage of all.

"No video refs in those days"

“King Edward used the motivation of being ‘underdogs’ like we had done in the earlier rounds and played very well on the day. They were inspired and we were not able to take our chances.”

Hill even remembers the Stratford team’s crucial try. “They scored in the corner and, I reckon, if the match had had a video referee we might have seen a different outcome. There were no video refs in those days though.”

Some 25 years on and the two teams held a reunion last April as the two present teams fought out a friendly at Saracens’ Allianz Park which Bishop Wordsworth’s won .

Another link to the two eras is Bishop Wordsworth’s captain Cadan Murley whose father played in the Cup final team alongside Hill.

“I’ve got some great memories and I hope the present team will have the same of this Cup run in years to come,” added Hill.

For the latest news and results from this year's NatWest Schools Cup click here.