The Champions Trophy semi finalists have been decided; Barnard Castle, Millfield, Oakham, and Grammar School at Leeds will be the four sides competing to be in the final at Allianz Park on the 26th November.
In keeping with the enthralling nature of this competition, the four quarter finals that gave us our four semi finalists were exhilarating. This new Schools Champions Trophy competition has really captured the imagination of schools rugby supporters.
The games were split across two days, on Wednesday Barnard Castle took on Marlborough College and Millfield hosted Eton College, while on Thursday Grammar School at Leeds travelled to RGS Guildford, with Oakham v Epsom College being streamed live on www.englandrugby.com (you an see that game here â€“ Oakham v Epsom College).
Each game produced its own moments of unique excitement but each was a game not to be missed.
Barnard Castle, that famous rugby school, producers of some of the finest players to ever pull on the white England shirt, were involved in a real tussle against Marlborough College, just sneaking through 12-11. It was the County Durham sideâ€™s first real test in the competition, but they got through it and can now look forward to next weekâ€™s semi final draw.
Wednesdayâ€™s other clash was one to really whet the appetite. Millfield, possibly the most prestigious â€˜rugby schoolâ€™ in the country, took on Eton College, possibly the most prestigious school of any kind.
Millfield strode out to a half time lead but Eton pegged them back to 17-17 in the second half, further enhancing the reputation that this competition has already developed for producing thrilling finishes.
Millfield hit back with twelve unanswered points though, winning 29-17 to book their semi final spot, and possibly the tag of outright favourites with Oakham having stunned Epsom College.
What a stunningly astute performance it was from Oakham to defeat Epsom though. Matt Riddington, Oakhamâ€™s Northampton Saints fly half, steered his side around brilliantly, prodding the ball into Epsom territory time and time again.
It helped his side push out to a 17-3 advantage at the midway point of the second half, however a yellow card handed Epsom College, who were shorn of a few regular starters through injury, the momentum as they scored to tries to take the scores to 17-15.
In cup rugby guts and heart and determination count as much as anything else though, and Oakham showed just that to close out for a famous victory. Another victory in the semi finals and they will start to be looked at in the same light as those Schools Cup winners of the early 2000â€™s. Guess who they were often fighting for those titlesâ€¦Barnard Castle.
The final quarter final same RGS Guildford host Grammar School at Leeds (you can see our report here â€“ RGS v GSAL). Grammar School at Leeds have that excellent scenario where a group of U15s Schools Cup winners have now reached Upper 6th, and it is showing, they are unbeaten this season and have been swatting teams aside.
RGS really made them work for this one though, taking an early lead before GSAL built up a bit of an advantage, before coming back again in the second half. At one stage it seemed that RGS might steal it with another score but Grammar School at Leeds showed their quality to score an excellent try and give the scoreboard an altogether more comfortable looking 24-15 final score.
All of which leaves Barnard Castle, Millfield, Oakham, and Grammar School at Leeds in the hat for the semi final draw, which is likely to take place next week ahead of the proposed dates for the semi finals of the 11th-13th November.
The geographical breakdown of the teams is very interesting. The NatWest Schools Cup has been dominated by the South East over the last five years, having been won by Whitgift in 2010 and 2011, and by Dulwich College in every year since.
The Schools Champions Trophy semi finals feature no teams at all from the South East, with one from the South West, Millfield, one from the Midlands, Oakham, and the remaining two from the North. Could we see a northern dominance in the early years of this competition, as there was in the early years of the Schools Cup?
Barnard Castle will hope so, they are one of the most successful sides in Schools Cup history yet have never lifted that famous U18s trophy. Three times they have fallen at the final hurdle, they will hope that the Champions Trophy brings greater success.
Oakham denied Barnard Castle in one of those and will be desperate for a chance to have success in a new tournament now, and with the momentum that they will now be carrying after that Epsom College win, it would not be a surprise at all to see them absolutely fly out of the traps in the semi finals.
Grammar School at Leeds know that this is a big opportunity for them to make a statement as a school, this group of U15s who have matured into U18s offer them a real chance of success. So far they have been performing brilliantly, winning every game this season, they will be desperate to continue that and have some silverware to show for their efforts.
Millfield know that they will be a highly prized scalp, and with the import rule hampering them more than the others, they know that they must be at their very best and at their fullest concentration if they are to claim the national fifteen-a-side full game title that they so desire. They will be the favourites though, and they will be keen to show exactly why.
November should be a very exciting month indeed!
Who do you think will win the inaugural Schools Champions Trophy? Let us know via the comment box below or on twitter at: @FifteenRugbyXV
Champions Trophy Quarter-Final Results:
Barnard Castle 12-11 Marlborough College
Millfield 29-17 Eton College
Oakham 17-15 Epsom College
RGS Guildford 15-24 Grammar School at Leeds