The 27th Annual St Josephâ€™s College Festival takes place this weekend and it promises to be as exciting and competitive a tournament as ever.
Last year Millfield won with RGS High Wycombe lifting the Plate, whilst in 2011 Dulwich College took the main crown with Bedford securing the secondary trophy.
Those four sides all return this year alongside all but two of last yearâ€™s competitiors, Stowe and Stamford are the only sides not to return, they are replaced by Old Swinford Hospital and Solihull School.
The tournament looks incredibly competitive but it is Group C in particular that looks as though it will go right down to the wire. Any two from Bedford, Brighton, Merchiston Castle and RGS Newcastle could easily qualify from this group. None has had what you would call a perfect start to the season but all have shown at various points that they are capable of being brilliant.
Millfield will be the favourites in Group D, though their opponents in last years final, John Fisher, will be a particularly tricky side to overcome, whilst QEGS Wakefield and Abingdon are always capable of something. Millfield know how to do it though, and with the likes of Callum Sheedy and Tom Whiteley returning after last years victory, they will be dangerous.
Indeed Millfield will probably be considered overall favourites once again, certainly they have the strongest side on paper, although with such short games winning at St Josephâ€™s requires a special type of mentality for you have to be on top from the word go and on the scoreboard soon after. We have all played in games where you might go behind to a couple of early penalties but then win 50-6. At St Josephâ€™s that game would be lost 6-0.
The home side will fancy their chances too though, they have a core group of absolutely outstanding players who have been doing some serious damage in the Northampton Saints set up, George Wakocoke in particular is one to look out for. Of course their group will not be an easy one to negotiate, they have the talented but recently misfiring RGS High Wycombe side, Sam Warburtonâ€™s old school Whitchurch High, and an Old Swinford Hospital side with some star quality, through Sam Smith particular.
Having heard the wet weather forecast for the weekend though there is one school who might just have an inkling that things could be falling in their favour; Dulwich College.
Dulwich have been aiming to play an increasingly expansive game, and it has been working, they stunned Bedford 43-7 at the weekend, however their brilliant power game is still there to fall back on and in Josh Ibuanokpe they have the perfect man for the job this weekend.
They may be talking their chances down this year and have had some up and down results but it would be unwise to write them off. The challenge of Solihull in the group stage will be an interesting one though; the West Midlands side has looked imperious at times this season.
The beauty of St Josephâ€™s though is that any side can mount a serious challenge, it is about concentration and clinical play, something that always makes it a nerve-wracking yet enjoyable watch for the spectators.
St Josephâ€™s Festival 2013 Groups
Old Swinford Hosptial
Belfast Royal Academy
RGS High Wycombe
St Josephâ€™s College
Portsmouth Grammar School
Whitchurch High School
*Groups are played out on Saturday 1st & 2nd from Saturday Groups 1 to 4 go through to the Sunday Â Cup Groups A/B. 3rd & 4th from Saturday Groups 1 to 4 go through to the Sunday Plate Groups X/Y. Winners of Groups A & B play off in the Cup Final. Winners of Groups X & Y play in the Plate Final
We will have further previous in the build up to the tournament, including some predictions. In the meantime, why not give our St Josephâ€™s Festival Competition a go; all you have to do is predict the 4 group winners and the eventual champions to win a Fifteen Rugby t-shirt!