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2014 St Joseph’s Festival Preview

This weekend is one of the premier weekends on the school calendar, the last weekend before half term, which means only one thing – the St Joseph’s Festival.

The St Joseph’s Festival has become one of the most prestigious school competitions on the calendar, readily recognised as one of the toughest competitions to win, with its shortened games meaning that points must be scored fast and early, and defence must be impeccable.

It is a true test of character, attack, defence, and indeed fitness, such is the pace of the games and the sheer number of them. The sixteen teams are split into four groups on day one, with the top two in each group then being split into two Cup groups for day two, with the winners of each playing in the final. Meanwhile the bottom two in each group are split into two Plate groups, with the top two in each of those contesting the Plate final. It means seven games over two days for the finalists, six for everyone else.

Last year was one of the most emotional yet, St Joseph’s College, the hosts, had one of the finest yeargroups in their history. Four of them have gone onto professional contracts, another couple perhaps still should and could.

That put them under enormous pressure to perform at their home tournament, and perform they did, lighting up the competition before reaching the final against the powerful and impressive RGS High Wycombe.

Driving rain and a huge crowd (unwittingly) placing crushing pressure with their incredible support played slightly into RGS hands and they looked like they might burst the St Joseph’s dream. However the home side were inspired, fighting and scrapping to an 11-10 victory, sparking some of the most joyous scenes this writer has seen at a school tournament.

This year St Joseph’s College will be desperate to do well again, but as ever the opposition is incredibly strong.

St Joseph’s are in a Group A with RGS Newcastle, Scottish stalwarts Merchiston Castle, who almost beat Sedbergh earlier this term, and Brighton College, who had four old boys playing for Harlequins in the A league on Monday.

Group B sees the 2011 Champions Dulwich College top the billing. That 2011 victory was one of the key milestones on that teams way to an unbeaten season and their first Schools Cup title in the spring, which has since been followed by two more.

Dulwich again arrive unbeaten but face a tricky group with 2013 finialists RGS High Wycombe, Sam Warburton’s old school Whitchurch High, from Wales, and the famous West Country school, St Peter’s Gloucester, late replacements for Old Swinford Hospital.

That 2011 triumph for Dulwich was followed by an equally impressive 2012 competition, which was won by Millfield School, with several of that team now playing professional rugby – it should come as no surprise that St Joseph Festival winners seem to produce several professional players, winning here requires a special kind of player.

Millfield are joined by Bradford Grammar School, one of the great Schools Cup sides, as well as the impressive Denstone College, and last year’s Schools Cup quarter finalists Hampton School, who are getting better and better each week as their injury list shortens and shortens.

Group D reads like something of a list of heavy hitters. Bedford have been one of the top sides around for the last few years and are possibly the favourites, however with the likes of 2012 finalists John Fisher, schools legends QEGS Wakefield, and last year’s surprise package Solihull in the group, anything could happen here.

With four such strong groups and only two sides from each entering the Championship groups, the level of intensity and quality that lies ahead is clear – as ever, this St Joseph’s Festival weekend is one not to be missed!

Who do you think will win the 2014 St Joseph’s Festival? Let us know via @FifteenRugbyXV or via the comment box below.

St Joseph’s Festival Stage One Groups

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Brighton College

Dulwich College

Bradford Grammar School

Bedford

Merchiston Castle

RGS High Wycombe

Denstone College

John Fisher

RGS Newcastle

St Peter’s, Gloucester

Hampton

QEGS Wakefield

St Joseph’s College

Whitchurch High School

Millfield

Solihull

Make sure to enter this week’s prediction competition, a St Joseph’s Festival special – just follow this link: St Joseph’s Festival Prediction Competition.

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