1stXV v Old Albanian, Sat Dec 17, 14:00, Match Preview
Ampthill welcome Old Albanian to Dillingham Park this Saturday for the first reverse fixture of this season and the second local derby of this month.
A group of former St Albans School pupils founded Old Albanians RFC in 1924 with a WW1 barrack hut providing the first clubhouse. Some years passed before the club moved to Beech Bottom in North St. Albans where another group of OAs including architects and builders constructed a pavilion which housed the OA rugby, cricket and shooting clubs.
Around the time of the first Rugby World Cup in 1987 OAs found themselves in London 2, relegated to London 3 and promoted to London 1 in 2002.
OAs consolidated their status in London 1 before winning promotion to National 2 South in 2011.
Beech Bottom was sold to developers in 2001 providing the funds to enable a joint project with the School to move to Cheapside Farm. The ground was renamed ‘Woollams’ in honour of Charles Woollam, a former mayor of the city in the nineteenth century and generous benefactor to the school. An award winning clubhouse was constructed which contains two sports bars, extensive kitchens, changing facilities and showers for rugby and cricket players, officials and physios.
Outside, the facility boasts six rugby pitches, three for cricket, hockey and soccer as well as state-of-the-art floodlit tennis courts. The whole site is seventy acres, shared with St Albans School’s own pavilion and pitches all of which is disabled-friendly. During the weeks of the season, Saracens RFC train at Woollams as well as playing their home ‘A’ team fixtures there.
Notable ex OA players include Nigel Cartwright and Ian MacMillin, who also played for London Scottish in the 1950 and 1960s, in the 1970s Jeff Probyn played for OAs before honours at Wasps, England & the Barbarians. Bob Wilkinson of Bedford RFC also played for the club as a youngster while at the school winning the same honours as Probyn.
In an interesting conundrum, Ampthill’s head coach Paul Turner, capped at fly half for Wales, has both played & coached at OAs.
The OA family of clubs now include the Saints, a ladies side who joined shortly after Woollams was opened, several of their alumni having played for England, Wales and Italy.
A thriving mini & junior section covers every inch of Woollams every Sunday morning while many trophies have been won at county level at all age groups, which also includes a successful colts side.
OAs finished fifth in their first season in National 1, placing it as the 29th club in the country, 2014 saw a mid-table position before relegation followed in 2015 after an up-and-down season marred at the last by a points deduction for a technical registration matter. The club bounced back in 2016 finishing runner up in N2S before securing promotion by winning the playoff against Sedgley Park.
This season Albanian have a played 15 won 7 record to lie 9th in the National 1 table. A fortnight ago they lost 43-42 at Coventry to a last play of the game (6th minute of overtime) penalty goal while last week they defeated Hull Ionians 15-13 after the assistant referees took a long time to reject a last play of the game conversion attempt that would have tied the scores!
Ampthill’s away victory 10-20 over Cambridge last weekend came after a physical battle between two big packs. Played in heavy rain the result remained in doubt until near the end of the game.
There are no changes to the pack this week but the backs see Gavin Williams rotate to scrum half from the bench with Sam Hanks replacing the injured Peter Weightman on the wing. The bench sees hooker Ben Wilkinson, scrum half Ben Calder & outside back Jonathan Morgan return from the 1881s.
No team sheet received from Old Albanian at press time so their team below is that which played against Hull Ionians last week.