This weekend sees one of the highlights of the Schoolboy Rugby calendar, the St Josephâ€™s Festival. Some of the best sides from around the country will compete over the whole of Saturday and Sunday for schools rugby bragging rights.
The tournament welcomes three new teams, Abingdon, Belfast Royal Academy and Stowe, while unfortunately Colstonâ€™s, Tonbridge and last years losing finalists, Filton, do not return.
The rugby all begins at 9am on Saturday with the 16 teams split into four groups. The top two from each group will then form two new â€˜Cupâ€™ group stages on Sunday, from which the top side from each will contest the final. The 3rd and 4th placed teams from Saturdayâ€™s groups will follow the same format, culminating in the plate final.
Last year Dulwich won the title in a narrow 11-9 victory against Filton, it was a game that inspired them as they began their crusade towards their Daily Mail Cup glory, and they will be hoping that they can gain similar inspiration again this season.
There are a number of strong sides again this year, with Dulwich and Millfield standing out in particular. Whitchurch High School though, from Wales, cannot be discounted, they are a strong side and topped their group last year and also have the benefit of being something of an unknown quantity to many teams.
In truth though, every side in the Festival is strong, it is why it is such a well respected tournament, and the likes of Bedford, RGS High Wycombe and RGS Newcastle will feel they have every chance, while hosts St Joseph will have a huge home support to help them along.
Â 1.Â Â Â Abingdon, Belfast Royal Academy, Brighton College, St Josephâ€™s
With two newcomers to the tournament in this group it is wide open. St Josephâ€™s will expect to do well on home turf though, while Abingdon have one of the toughest fixture lists around and so will be well prepared.
Abingdon & St Josephâ€™s.
Â 2.Â Â Â Bedford, Merchiston Castle, Stamford, Stowe
A tough, tough group with three big midlands rivals plus Scottish giants, Merchiston Castle. Bedford have been in outstanding form in patches this season, and if their injured players return they could be a dark horse in this competition as they look to go one better than their plate win last year.
Stowe boast one of their strongest sides for years but so far have yet to show their true colours. Merchiston Castle will as ever be extremely well drilled and highly competitive, they have swept all before them this season and look formidable. Stamford meanwhile have not had their best year to date, but with two big rivals in the pot, will be ready to compete.Â
Bedford & Merchiston Castle.
3.Â Â Â Dulwich College, Queen Elizabethâ€™s Grammar School, RGS High Wycombe, Whitchurch High.
What a group this is, in reality any of the four could turn it on and go through here.Â Dulwich are once again looking strong though and are unbeaten so far this season with just a draw against Wellington College spoiling the clean sweep. The others are all quality sides too though, and picking a winner is tough.
Much will depend on how each side copes against Whitchurch, a side that none will have much knowledge about.
Dulwich & RGS High Wycombe
4.Â Â Â John Fisher, Millfield, Portsmouth Grammar, RGS Newcastle
Millfield are the standout side here, they have enjoyed a good season so far and will be looking to add a trophy to it by the end of the weekend. The second qualifying spot will be hard fought but given their recent surge in form, RGS Newcastle may just have the confidence and the momentum to see them through, though Portsmouth and John Fisher will have serious questions about that.
Millfield & RGS Newcastle.Â