The NatWest Cup tends to have a bit of a slow build early in the term, such is the nature of a tournament whose entrants number into the hundreds.
We are now moving in to the last 64 in both the U18 Cup and the U15 Cup though, or the 4th round and 5th round if you prefer, and from this point onwards the tournament really does begin to truly kick into life.
There were concerns earlier in the year that perhaps the rise of the Champions Trophy might dilute the appetite for the NatWest Cup, particularly in losing recent Cup legends Dulwich College to it. However that has not been the case, and reading through the remaining cast list there are going to be some outstanding battles coming up.
Most of these fourth round games will take place next week, as well as a few tidy up third round fixtures, so here is what lies ahead, plus a few key picks:
RGS Newcastle v Durham, Ampleforth College v Ermysted’s/St Peter’s York, Stonyhurst/RGS Lancaster v Austin Friars, and QEGS Wakefield v Stockport Grammar School.
Key Fixture – RGS Newcastle v Durham, two great rivals. They have already played this season and Durham won comfortably. RGS will want revenge.
King William’s College v Calday Grange/Wirral GS, Wilmslow HS v Sandbach/Sir John’s, Mount St Mary’s v Pocklington, and Bolton v Woodhouse Grove.
Key Fixture – Wilmslow v Sandbach/Sir John’s. Not so much about who Wilmslow play as how. They reached the semi finals last year, are they able to do so again this year?
Bedford Modern v Roundwood Park, Bishop’s Stortford HS v The Perse, Abingdon v KES Birmingham, and Solihull v Bromsgrove.
Key Fixture – Solihull v Bromsgrove. Bromsgrove are the Champions and are unbeaten and almost unplayable this year. How will they fare in what will be a tricky old cup tie though, against a Solihull side?
King’s Worcester v Ellesmere College, RGS Worcester v Warwick, Carre’s GS v Langley, and Oundle v Leicester GS.
Key Fixture – RGS Worcester v Warwick. Warwick ought to be favourites but RGS are a good side and could beat them. Warwick have been struggling but are a side made up of U15 NatWest Cup winners, now is the time for that to show.
London & South East A
Hurstpierpoint College v Whitgift, St Benedict’s v KCS Wimbledon, Campion v St Joseph’s College, and Skinners’ v Sir Joseph Williamson’s.
Key Fixture – St Benedict’s v KCS Wimbledon. So many to choose from in this section, Campion v St Jo’s will also be tasty, St Jo’s took a surprise loss to Campion at the same stage two years ago. Under the RFU live cameras though, St Benedict’s v KCS will be special.
London & South East B
Simon Langton v Judd, John Fisher v New Hall, Hampton v Reigate GS, and Trinity v Richard Collyer.
Key Fixture – Hampton v Reigate Grammar. This is mouthwatering, Hampton, the St Joseph’s Festival winners, look superb and after so many years of knocking on the door are desperate to add the Cup to that. Reigate are flying though, and shocked Harrow last time out, could they do the same to Hampton?
South West A
Bishop Wordsworth’s v Aylesbury GS, Lord Wandsworth College v RGS High Wycombe, Stowe v Wycliffe, and Portsmouth GS v King’s College Taunton.
Key Fixture – Lord Wandsworth College v RGS High Wycombe. RGS have been very strong in this competition for a number of years but you have to go back to the nineties for their last real success. Could this year be their year?
South West B
Torquay GS/Exeter School v Truro, Exeter College v Weston College, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital v St Peter’s Gloucester, and King Edward’s Southampton/Thomas Hardye v Dauntsey’s v St Laurence.
Key Fixture – Torquay/Exeter v Truro. Truro School have been punching hard in this tournament in the last couple of years and a decent draw this year gives them a good opportunity again. This will be tricky whichever side they play though.
The spread of quality is highly impressive and even within their own region the champions, Bromsgrove, face a lot of competition.
The quality is equally high in the U15s, here’s what is happening there:
Pocklington v St Peter’s York, Denstone College v St Ambrose College, Ampleforth College v Grammar School at Leeds, and Sedbergh v RGS Lancaster.
Key Fixture – Sedbergh v RGS Lancaster. Sedbergh do not enter the U18 Cup, and they were knocked out of the semi finals in the Champions Trophy. Can their U15s get the job done?
Durham v RGS Newcastle, Kirkham Grammar v Woodhouse Grove, Lymm HS v Wirral GS, and QEGS Wakefield v Birkdale HS.
Key Fixture – Durham v RGS Newcastle. With the U18s also paired together, this could make for a brilliant afternoon. A tough group, also home to the champions, QEGS Wakfield.
Bedford v St Alban’s, Old Swinford Hospital v Newcastle-Under-Lyme, RGS Worcester v Warwick, and Stowe v Northampton School for Boys.
Key Fixture – RGS Worcester v Warwick. Another that is also being played at U18 level, which is always special. Warwick won the Cup in 2013 and 2014, and they reached the final last year. Will they be at Twickenham again?
Norwich v Spalding GS, Prince Henry’s Evesham v Bromsgrove, Bishop of Hereford’s Blue Coat v Dean Close, and Uppingham v Leicester Grammar.
Key Fixture – Uppingham v Leicester Grammar. Perhaps a slight bit of bias from the author here, being an OU, but with Uppingham struggling for a few years at U18 level, perhaps their U15s will give them something to cheer.
London & South East A
Brentwood v Felsted, Epsom College v Dulwich College, Merchant Taylors v Hampton, and Wimbledon College v KCS Wimbledon.
Key Fixture – Wimbledon College v KCS Wimbledon. The Wimbledon derby is always a very special game of rugby. Epsom v Dulwich also a cracker, Dulwich are superb this year.
London & South East B
Skinners’ v Maidstone GS, Hurstpierpoint College v Whitgift, St Paul’s/Campion v Harrow, and Caterham v Brighton College.
Key Fixture – Hurstpierpoint v Whitgift. Yet another game that is also replicated at U18 level and both schools are known to be greatly looking forward to this double header.
South West A
Millfield v Bryanston, St Peter’s Gloucester v Beechen Cliff, RGS High Wycombe v Aylesbury GS, and Truro v Kingsbridge CC.
Key Fixture – Millfield v Bryanston. Two sides who produce top class player after top class player, and if you want a chance of spying an U15 who could go on to something special, watching this game is perhaps your best guarantee historically.
South West B
Bishop Wordsworth v Portsmouth GS, Ivybridge CC v Blundell’s, Marlborough College v Colston’s, and Wellington College v Reading Blue Coat.
Key Fixture – Ivybridge v Blundell’s. Our interest in this is caught by their 1st XVs. Blundell’s 1st XV reached the Champions Trophy semi finals and looked magnificent, Ivybridge play in the immensely competitive AASE league. It will be interesting to see if that quality filters to U15 level.