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Midweek Preview – Top sides get ready to prove themselves

After one of the most thrilling weekend’s of the school season so far, this midweek is shaping up to be pretty good too.

There are big games on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with some big NatWest Cup clashes scattered around too.

We will deal with the Cup clashes elsewhere, but for now – a look at the week ahead day by day:

Tuesday:

Ipswich v Royal Hospital School

Tuesday is packed full of NatWest Cup action but there is also the small matter of a huge local derby in Ipswich, where Ipswich School take on Royal Hospital School.

Both sides have lost some highly talented players since last year but have picked up some excellent results this year. Ipswich may just have the edge though.

Prediction – Ipswich

Wednesday

What day Wednesday is going to be, despite NatWest Cup action also taking place, five of the very biggest names in schoolboy rugby will be in action outside of the competition.

Wellington v Sedbergh

Simply put, this might well be the biggest game of the season so far. Sedbergh have been outstanding this season, running unbeaten (in the UK). It is not just that they are winning though – they are trouncing teams.

Their only blip was a 26-0 defeat to Millfield when on tour in Abu Dhabi, a fine result for Millfield of course but one that Sedbergh will not worry about too much given the unusual circumstances of playing a game in Abu Dhabi.

Wellington have been equally good, however a defeat to Hampton, 8-10, at the weekend may just have slowed their momentum a little. They had previously been undefeated since the opening game of the season, also an 8-10 defeat, this time to RGS High Wycombe.

It was a seven game run that included victories over Dulwich, Marlborough, Whitgift, and Bryanston, so Sedbergh will be well aware of Wellington’s quality. Like Sedbergh when they win they win well – the only victory they have had that you would not describe as being a comprehensive scoreline was their 22-15 victory over Dulwich, and frankly, beating the back to back Schools Cup champions by seven points should be impressive enough for anyone.

Predicting a winner is no easy task, if you were to name a top five teams of the season to date these would both be in it so it ought to be tight. The most recent meeting between these two was in the seven man format of the game, at Twickenham for the crown of School Sevens Champions. Wellington won that well, and while it might not say much about Wednesday’s game it does tell you a lot about the quality of these two teams.

The game is being played on neutral territory, at Broadstreet RFC just outside Coventry and will be played under floodlights with an 18.00 kick off. So even the idea of home advantage cannot separate these two.

However, despite the difficulty in calling this one, we will as ever, make our prediction. There is just an inkling that having lost on Saturday Wellington may just have that little bit of extra fire in their bellies to prove that that was just a blip and that could just be enough to see them over the line first. It could really go either way though.

Prediction – Wellington, just.

Filton College v Millfield

Just in case one huge game on a Wednesday afternoon is not enough for you, there is another absolutely brilliant fixture in Filton College v Millfield.

Filton are hovering in mid table in the AASE League, beating Ivybridge and Henley but losing to Hartpury, Truro, and St Paul’s CC. A big win against Henley again on Wednesday though will have filled them with confidence, suggesting that they are moving into position to strike.

Millfield by contrast have had a very good season so far, their only defeat has come to Palmerston North Boy’s High School, a touring side from New Zealand, who would probably have beaten any side in the country, such was their quality.

There was a defeat to RGS High Wycombe in the shortened format at St Joseph’s though and a draw on the opening day with Warwick, suggesting that this side is not infallible.

In the corresponding fixture last year Filton came out flying to beat Millfield 32-22 however with both sides having had such a high turnover of players from last season to this, and with so many star names among them, using that as a barometer is something of a red herring.

Judging Filton at this stage is hard for us as we are yet to see them in action so they can only be judged on rumour and results. However we have seen Millfield a few times and their victory over Llandovery College at the weekend was an outstanding result, meaning that like Filton they arrive at this fixture full of confidence after a good win.

What it also means is that Millfield have now twice faced top Welsh opposition this season, Coleg Sir Gar and Llandovery, two schools who are normally highly comparable with the AASE Colleges.

Does that make Millfield favourites? It certainly makes it tempting. A lot of it will come down to defence though, in their three wins Filton have scored 39, 46, and 53 points, while they scored 30 in defeat to Hartpury. Any side scoring that number of points in that league has got something pretty nice happening in attack.

With home advantage though it seems crazy not to back the AASE side in our prediction but this will be very close and Millfield are very capable of taking the win. If they keep the Filton attack in check they are more than capable of scoring tries from anywhere, indeed they will actively try to score from anywhere. It will certainly be good viewing, whoever wins.

Prediction – Filton, by a whisker

Rugby v Pocklington

The school that is the birthplace of the game of rugby have had an inconsistent start to the season but a 38-0 victory over Trent College on Saturday will have given them the big confidence boost that they wanted ahead of this game.

We last saw them in action during their 22-20 defeat to Oakham just before the half term break, where despite losing they did play some lovely rugby at time; just losing out to an Oakham side who looked like they had a real point to prove.

Pocklington’s story has been similar, in that inconsistency has been the best adjective for their start. Defence would appear to be their main area of concern, certainly 40-0 and 50-10 losses to Barnard Castle and St Peter’s York would suggest that.

However they have shown some good attacking play too, and the ability to keep sides out at times, their 38-0 victory over Mount St Mary’s being the obvious example.

However probably the most telling stat ahead of this game is that against Trent, the side that Rugby beat on Saturday, Pocklington lost 29-0. While that might have been back in September it does leave Rugby as the firm favourites here, though they will have to be mindful, this Pocklington side has shown that they can play.

Prediction – Rugby

Barnard Castle v Gateshead College

Barnard Castle are looking very good again this year and have only lost to RGS Newcastle and Durham, two of the strongest sides around.

Gateshead have had some pretty decent performances but a 52-0 beating by RGS Newcastle in the previous round suggest that Barnard Castle should have this on.

Prediction – Barnard Castle

Thursday:

Eton College v Marlborough College

A marvellous traditional school fixture, and one that ought to be pretty competitive this year.

Eton have lost five and lost three and have at times looked brilliant but at others looked some way short of that. In defeat to Radley for instance they were excellent, their maul caused all sorts of problems, however against Harrow they really struggled.

The result that really puts the cat among the pigeons with Eton though is their defeat of KCS Wimbledon, a 30-11 victory over one of the most in form sides in the region.

Marlborough have had a similarly unusual season in terms of results and performance, however theirs is a little easier to understand, injury and form can be seen affecting their results.

They began poorly with three defeats in their first four games including a 41-0 defeat to Wellington College, a fate that Eton faced too with a 46-5 defeat to the same opposition. However those results must be seen in the context of an injury crisis that seemed to severely affect this side, and since the start of October, as injuries have subsided, their form was been impeccable.

They are unbeaten since the start of October, a run that has seen four victories, plus a big Nat West Cup win, and they are now looking back to their best and able to beat anyone.

As Eton showed against KCS though, they too can beat anyone, however we expect Marlborough to continue their fine run of from on Thursday.

Prediction – Marlborough

Friday:

Brighton College v Portsmouth Grammar School

Brighton College started the season looking as though they were finding it hard to hope with the loss of the stars of last year. There were some big results but against the teams that were really going to test them, Dulwich and Cranleigh, they were unable to get a victory.

However since half term they look sharp, with a 20-20 draw against a brilliant Epsom College side at the weekend suggesting that they are right back to where they need to be, and not a moment too soon with fixture against John Fisher and Hampton coming up.

They ought to be able to cope well with Portsmouth Grammar School on Friday too, PGS may have won the St Joseph’s Festival Plate competition and have looked good this year, but Brighton ought to be capable of winning if they are on their game. They may not have excelled at St Joseph’s but they reached the main draw for day two of the competition rather than the Plate and that ought to give them a sense that they should win.

PGS are a good side though and they are capable of surprising sides, just as anyone in that Plate competition at St Jo’s.

Prediction – Brighton

St John’s Leatherhead v Reed’s

Rounding off the midweek preview is St John’s v Reed’s, it has not been a vintage season for either side, however both did pick up wins at the weekend, Reed’s winning 8-0 against Pangbourne, while St John’s beat Haileybury 24-7.

They have only had one mutual opponent so far Brighton College, with both teams losing, however a 64-18 defeat for Reed’s and a 25-12 defeat for St John’s suggests that St John’s are the more likely side to win this one.

Prediction – St John’s Leatherhead

Selected NON CUP Midweek Fixtures (Predictions in bold)

Tuesday

Ipswich v RHS

Wednesday

Wellington v Sedbergh (18.00 ko, Broadstreet RFC)

Filton v Millfield

Rugby v Pocklington

Barnard Castle v Gateshead

Thursday

Eton v Marlborough

Friday

Brighton v Portsmouth Grammar

St John’s Leatherhead v Reed’s

Do you agree with our predictions? Tweet @FifteenRugbyXV or leave a comment below.

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