Finally, after months of inaction, the schoolboy rugby season is upon us again and as ever it is going to start with a bang.
Many schools have been away on tour including the likes of Sedbergh, RGS High Wycombe, and Trinity, while many more have been playing in pre season friendlies and attending training camps over the few weeks.
This weekend is when the action really starts though, and although it is still officially pre-season, with trophies up for grabs and the new term right upon us, you can be certain that these will no be treated like â€˜pre-seasonâ€™ fixtures â€“ competitiveness will be the order of the weekend.
Probably the most high profile competition on the list this weekend is the Tynedale Festival, which features eighteen different sides at Under 18 level.
Last year Stowe won the competition, setting themselves up nicely for what was to prove a very decent season for them. They look likely to be one of the top sides again this year, however they will be shorn of two of their brightest stars for Tynedale with the Segun brothers, Rotimi and Tosin, away with Northampton Saints at the U18 Academies Festival at Bristol Grammar School.
Stoweâ€™s side of the draw should be competitive, RGS Newcastle are perennially strong, while Hymers College should be expecting a decent season. Yarm will be looking to climb back to their 2013 NatWest Vase winning form after not quite hitting those heights last year.
Group B sees two sides that have travelled a long way to be at the party, Blundellâ€™s from Devon and St Paulâ€™s from London. Both enjoyed promising yearâ€™s last year and will hope to go even better this, however for success in this final stage of pre season they must get past Lawrence Dallaglioâ€™s old school, Ampleforth College, and last yearâ€™s NatWest Cup semi finalists, Durham.
Tynedale Festival Cup Draw
Tynedale Festival Plate Draw
Newcastle School for Boys
Old Swinford Hospital
Tynedale Festival Trophy Draw: Alnwick RFC, Morpeth RFC, St Paulâ€™s 2nd XV, Tynedale RFC, Yarm 2nd XV.
Kingâ€™s Macclesfield Festival
The North of England really dominates the scene this weekend, with another big pre-season Festival, the Kingâ€™s Macclesfield Festival, also taking place.
Kingâ€™s are in group A as hosts and face a tricky task to get out of it given the quality of the group. The likes of Bradford Grammar School, Malvern College, Oakham, and RHS will be tough opposition.
The side to look out for is likely to be Warwick though. They have had an impressive run of success in both the U18 and U15 NatWest Cup over the last few years and are likely to have a very strong 1st XV this season.
Warwick might be fancying the idea of facing their local rivals Solihull in the knockout stages, and based on last yearâ€™s from it would be no surprise if that were the case. Standing in their way though, among others, are Grammar School at Leeds.
The West Yorkshire side enjoyed a very good season last year and are well tipped to repeat that this year. Group B is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
As is Group D. Nottingham High School and Trent College have long been capable of big upsets, and remain so, however the side we are tipping to keep an eye on this year is Denstone College. With a strong fixture list and some good players, they are set up nicely for a high profile season.
Kingâ€™s Macclesfield Festival Draw
Kingâ€™s School Macclesfield
Bristol Grammar School
Bradford Grammar School
Grammar School At Leeds
Manchester Grammar School
Stockport Grammar School
Nottingham High School
Royal Hospital School
Reigate Grammar School Festival
Reigate Grammar School welcomes eight other schools to their grounds on Saturday for their pre season festival. There are some strong sides turning out too, with John Fisher and Tonbridge likely to be the pick of the bunch.
Tonbridge bring along two sides, as do Trinity School, and will be hoping for a big performance. With the players available to them this season, including a certain Ben Earl, they are going to be a team to watch.
Joining those sides are New Hall, Wimbledon College, Churchers College, Emmanuel, and Anthony Watsonâ€™s former school, St Georgeâ€™s Weybridge.
The Festival is a multi age affair too, there are U16, 15, and 14 draws that should mean there is a very healthy crowd to support the teams.
Reigate Grammar School Festival Draw: Reigate Grammar School, Churchers College, Emmanuel, John Fisher, New Hall, St Georgeâ€™s Weybridge, Tonbridge 1st XV, Tonbridge 2nd XV, Trinity 1st XV, Trinity 2nd XV, Wimbledon College.
St Albans Pre Season Festival
St Albans are also hosting their annual pre season festival this weekend and include some very experienced and high profile teams, including AASE sides Filton College and Oaklands College.
St Albans also play host to St Josephâ€™s College, one of the best sides on the school circuit last year, but a side who have lost some seriously high profile players. Lewis Ludlum, Dan Lewis, George Wacokecoke, and Karl Wilkins all turned professional this summer, with Ludlum also representing England U18s recently, while Austin Beckett turned out for London Welsh in the Premiership 7s.
Replacing that quintet is no easy task but St Josephâ€™s have long been a hotbed of talent and will be looking to prove just that this weekend, before they begin to turn their attention towards their own famous festival in mid October.
Stamford will also be in attendance and once again there is pressure on them to perform this season. It is now (by our last count!) three years since they lost at home so they will be looking for a solid display at St Albans ahead of that first home game against Stowe on the 6th September.
Bedford are also set to be in St Albans, they have been performing right at the highest level of school rugby over the last couple of years, and creating some style players whilst they do so in Charlie Esam and Ollie Lyons. Paddy McDuell looks set to be the next one off the Bedford production line. The outside half was an England U16 international back in 2013.
Esher Presidentâ€™s Cup
The annual Esher Presidentâ€™s Cup features eight highly competitive teams, including some of last yearâ€™s most successful teams of all.
Who can forget Whitgift v Hampton in the NatWest Cup last year? Moved onto the smaller pitch at Whitgift due to poor weather, Hampton produced a magnificent display to progress by the smallest of margins. That game will have the chance to be recreated as both participate this Sunday.
Also included are AASE side Henley College, and last yearâ€™s Twickenham 7s stars, John Fisher, as well as the likes of St Benedictâ€™s, Skinnersâ€™, Caterham, and the excellent Brighton College â€“ who were the only side to deny the mighty Epsom College victory last year.
Esher Presidentâ€™s Cup Teams: Whitgift, John Fisher, Caterham, Henley College, Hampton, Brighton College, Skinnersâ€™, St Benedicts.
Colstonâ€™s Pre Season Festival:
Colstonâ€™s are also hosting a pre season festival, it features eight teams from the South West, including the multiple schools cup winning giants themselves, as well as the likes of Cheltenham College, St Peterâ€™s Gloucester, and Kingâ€™s College Taunton.
The tournament has a bit of a twist though, results are not recorded, a move that is part of an effort to encourage teams to use it as a genuinely experimental pre-season warm up.
That being said, teams will still be looking to do well and to prepare for the season ahead, particularly the host who will be striving to get back as close as possible to those glory days. If youâ€™re looking for a dark horse for the season though, keep an eye on Cheltenham College â€“ they impressed last year and could be even stronger this.
Colstonâ€™s Pre Season Festival Teams: Colstonâ€™s, Glantaf, Kingswood, Prior Park, St Peterâ€™s Gloucester, Kingâ€™s Taunton, Katherine Lady Berkley, Cheltenham College.
Other Weekend Fixtures
There are also smaller tournaments this weekend at Sevenoaks, The Perse, and Barnard Castle, as well as individual fixtures such as Kingâ€™s Canterbury v Colfeâ€™s, Sedbergh v Loretto, and Uppingham v Loughborough Grammar School.
For Sedbergh particularly, these early fixtures are key. Last year they just missed out to Woodhouse Grove for the inaugural Daily Mail Trophy, before again narrowly missing out to the in the Rosslyn Park Plate final. They will want to be as well prepared as possible as they aim to go just that little step further this year.
All in all, it looks set to be a spectacular final weekend of pre season schools rugby and the perfect lead in to what promises to be another exciting year of schoolboy rugby!
By Angus Savage