It is perhaps unfair to suggest that St Josephâ€™s Collegeâ€™s season is all about the St Josephâ€™s Festival next month, but it is probably not unfair to say that on every calendar it is circled in red, underlined, highlighted, and etched into the memory of its owner. It is a big deal.
It was with the Festival in mind that Fifteen Rugby went to Bury St Edmunds RFC to watch St Josephâ€™s take on Culford School, one of the biggest suppliers of players at all ages to the National 3 club.
We wanted to see the 2013 Festival winners in the flesh ahead of their Festival. Last year, with huge emotion and vocal support, St Josephâ€™s won their Festival, seeing off RGS High Wycombe by a point in the final. They did so with one of the most talented year groups they, or indeed most schools, have had. Four of that team went professional, another possibly deserves to, can this crop possibly live up to that?
Their first three games of the season had suggested it was possible, they had been scoring points for fun and averaged over fifty a game. This was different though, this was an evening game in front of a few hundred spectators, against a much better opponent than they had faced so far.
From the onset it was clear that St Josephâ€™s playing style was designed to fit the template needed for the Festival. Within minutes it felt to us, as mere onlookers, like a warm up to the Festival. Tempo was king, every penalty â€“ and, my word, there were a lot â€“ was a tap and go effort, width, power, and ultra-fast ball were the order of the day.
The old stars might have gone but the new generation look capable. At hooker and inside centre they look very strong, at fly half and number eight too, while at scrum half they have a man who knows exactly what is required of him â€“ deliver fast ball and get your hands on the ball fast at every penalty and get running. Boy is he quick too.
There looks to be quality out wide too, however the game suffered one vital flaw that never allowed them to flourish as they might â€“ it was littered with stoppages.
Perhaps it was a greasy ball on a dewy autumn evening, perhaps it was that both sides excelled at the breakdown (they did), perhaps it was some occasionally over zealous refereeing. Whichever combination, it made things flow somewhat less that they might have.
Nevertheless, St Josephâ€™s fast play brought the reward of a first half try underneath the posts following some heavy pressure on the Culford line. It gave them a 7-0 lead, which they took into the break.
In truth it could have been more, Culfordâ€™s work at the breakdown saw them secure some crucial last ditch turnovers, whilst the refereeâ€™s steadfast refusal to send anyone to the bin allowed them to infringe near their line and live to fight another day. It was excellent work.
That refusal to put his hand in his pocket was to change in the second half though, indeed it was a u-turn on a par with Machester Unitedâ€™s statement that they do not sack managers.
No less than four yellow cards were shown in the second half, the third of which was capitalised on brilliantly by St Josephâ€™s. Realising Culford were a man down they went wide early and were rewarded with a try just inside the left hand touchline to extend the lead to 12-0.
The tension was building though, Culford were frustrating the more illustrious visitors and the stoppages seemed to be making it hard for either side to find much rhythm. With that frustration all around it was inevitable that a little scrap might break out, and so it did. Nothing much to it, or at least from what we could see, but inexplicably the coaches were called in as the ticking off was administered â€“ authority gone for the official.
The game almost began to peter out, but it was then that St Josephâ€™s struck again blasting through the middle with some powerful runners before fast ball allowed them to sweep left and score on the left hand side again. Another fine try from the men in red and white, and another example of how lethal they are when they get the momentum that they are looking for with their high tempo style.
That score made it 17-0, and although Culford landed a late penalty to make it 17-3, that was job done for the Ipswich side. It was not the prettiest effort, nor perhaps the complete performance that either side was looking for, but there was enough there to show the class that exists.
St Josephâ€™s play the Bedford Blues Academy next, a game that will be a tough test but one that has proved vital in their Festival build up previously.
Having seen them in action now, St Josephâ€™s look a threat as usual for their home tournament. Other sides such as Millfield will be favourites ahead of them, but with home advantage, huge support, and a style of play that is ideally suited to the format, and players that fit the style perfectly, they will be a threat.
Full Time: Culford 3-17 St Josephâ€™s College.
Photos of the game are available on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby