The draw for the inaugural RFU U18 Schools Champions Trophy has been made, with some of the most recognisable schools in the country included.
The new competition consists of 32 teams and will run from the first round beginning on Wednesday 17th September through to the final on Wednesday 26th November at Saracensâ€™ Allianz Park.
The first round draw includes some of the very biggest names in schoolboy rugby. There are three former NatWest Schools Cup winners, Bradford Grammar School, Oakham, and the seven time champions, Coltonâ€™s.
There are also a host of former Schools Cup runners-up, RGS Newcastle, RGS Guildford, QEGS Wakefield, the famous Barnard Castle, and last yearâ€™s semi finalists and twice runners-up, Durham.
Not only that, but some of the most successful schools of the 2013/14 season are also in mix. Woodhouse Grove won the inaugural Daily Mail Trophy last season with an brilliant unbeaten regular season, they will be looking to add to that in the Champions Trophy this year but begin their campaign with a tricky away tie against Uppingham, a proud rugby school.
Epsom College were many peopleâ€™s School Team of the Season last year, indeed they came second only to Dulwich College in our readers vote for that award. They were unbeaten all year and were one of the toughest schools on the circuit. They begin the Champions Trophy at home against Bishopâ€™s Stortford High School.
Millfield are one of the strongest teams in any year, but last year was a particularly strong one for them as they gave many of the Welsh and AASE Collegeâ€™s a real fright before going on to an unbeaten sevens season. They will be looking to add some fifteen-a-side silverware to that this year though and their opening round tie away at Plymouth College will be a spicy affair.
This pilot year for the Schools Champions Trophy will essentially follow the same rules and regulations as the NatWest Cup, perhaps the most significant of all is the import rule, meaning that no more than three players can be selected for a matchday squad who arrived after the 30th September 2012, i.e for sixth form.
That will hinder some schools but many have shown in the Schools Cup that with careful management of playing resources, that is an obstacle that can be dealt with. Most would agree though that it is a good rule in terms of fairness.
The tournament is absolutely loaded with heavyweights of schoolboy rugby. Aside from those already mentioned, the likes of Tonbridge, Bryanston, Eton College, Bedford, and Grammar School at Leeds are all included, while in one particularly mouth-watering tie, Marlborough College must travel to Kingâ€™s College, Taunton.
Perhaps the one negative of the tournament at this pre-competition stage is that has significantly weakened the U18 NatWest Schools Cup draw. Many of the 32 sides drawn in the Schools Champions Trophy competed in the Schools Cup last year and would have been considered among the favourites to progress to the quarter-finals this.
That said, by introducing a tournament like this that runs only in the first term, therefore encouraging those one term rugby schools with a busy post Christmas schedule to compete.
For instance, the likes of Tonbridge, Eton College, and Epsom College have been absent from the NatWest Cup but all compete in the Champions Trophy. To have schools of that calibre back in national competition can only be a good thing.
The first round of the competition is divided regionally between the four RFU regions. The North and Midlands schools compete together, while on the other side London & South East and the South West compete together.
Following an application process the 32 schools were decided upon by a five man panel, and the first round draw consists of six North/Midlands ties and ten London & South East/South West ties.
Following the conclusion of the first round the tournament will then be redrawn nationally and will continue to be so following the conclusion of each round.
With the first round taking place between the 17th and 20th September, the last sixteen follows between the 1st and 4th October before we head into the quarter finals between the 15th and 18th.
After half term the tournament picks up again with the semi finals between the 12th and 15th November before that all-important final at Allianz Park on the 26th.
It is all set to be another fantastic addition to the school rugby calendar, and with the quality of schools and fixtures that are included, it will surely capture the imagination in a big way.
RFU U18 Schools Champions Trophy Draw:
North & Midlands
Barnard Castle v RGS Lancaster
Durham v Bradford Grammar School
Grammar School at Leeds v RGS Newcastle
Hull Collegiate v Oakham
QEGS Wakefield v Bedford
Uppingham v Woodhouse Grove
London and South East & South West
Caterham v Eastbourne
Colstonâ€™s v Blundellâ€™s
Cranbrook v RGS Guildford
Epsom College v Bishopâ€™s Stortford High School
Eton College v Haileybury College
Gordonâ€™s School v Eltham College
Kingâ€™s College, Taunton v Marlborough College
Plymouth College v Millfield
Reading Blue Coat v Bryanston
Tonbridge v Reading