Welcome to the 4th Issue of Fifteen Rugby: The Weekend Review, as ever thank you very much for subscribing.
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This week has been another superb one; there has been some outstanding schools rugby, dominated by the NatWest Cup. I caught the reigning champions, Bromsgrove, in action on Wednesday against Abingdon, where they won by an outstanding 45-17 margin.
It was the first time I had seen them this season, and on that evidence they certainly do not seem far off from being the favourites to win it again this year. Indeed I would say that aside from Bedford and Kirkham Grammar School, they are perhaps the best in the country.
Which brings us to an interesting aside, with regards to the Daily Mail Trophy. Bedford are currently top, and Kirkham Grammar are in third, however the most likely Champions are Wellington College.
You can find details of how each side can win in our Weekend Preview, but for simplicities sake here, a bonus point win will seal Wellington College the title, a simple win will leave the door open for Kirkham if they get a bonus point win on Tuesday.
There is no denying that Wellington College are a superb team, but by their own admission this has not been their best season and they seem to be feeling a bit sheepish about the possibility of retaining their crown at the expense of Bedford or Kirkham, who really have been truly outstanding.
Nevertheless, critics should not be too harsh, in any league system it is about finishing up with more points than anyone else, the hows and whys are not relevant. The Daily Mail Trophy is weighted heavily towards sides playing a strong fixture list, as loudly requested after 2013, and Wellington have the strongest of all and they play more games than most other sides. It would be far from a ‘fluke’ win, they have worked hard for it.
Could the league be structured better? Possibly, but it’s hard to see how. Ideally we all want the side that we collectively deem the best to win, but that is not how leagues work – perhaps you thought Bath played the best club rugby last year, but that did not mean they were handed the Aviva Premiership title.
Whatever happens though, all three sides deserve great credit for the rugby they have played this season.
One thought we have had here is the idea of a grand end of season play-off competition, involving the Champions Trophy winners, the St Joseph’s Festival winners, the NatWest Cup winners, the Daily Mail Trophy winners, plus the highest placed them from each region (North, Midlands, South East, and South West) in the Daily Mail Trophy who have not already qualified.
Last year that would have been Millfeld (Champions Trophy & St Jo’s winners), Grammar School at Leeds (Champions Trophy runners up, included as Millfield already qualified), Bromsgrove (NatWest Cup), Wellington College (Daily Mail Trophy), Sedbergh (top North side, 2nd), Monmouth (top South West side, 4th), Epsom College (top South East side, 5th), and Abingdon (top Midlands side, 7th). Quite a competition!
Alas, it could probably never happen, where is the room in the schedule.
We should all take the time to reflect on what has been a superb term of schools rugby though, one of the most competitive for a long time. Whoever ends up as Daily Mail Trophy Champions will have more than played their part, along with all of the others.
On Thursday I had the wonderful privilege of attending the Varsity Match at Twickenham, where last year’s Wellington College captain Will Wilson, coincidentally, was playing for Oxford.
It was a first trip back to Twickenham since the World Cup Final, and a reminder that no matter how big a game might be in global terms, and game there is always a special occasion, and the Varsity Match, with its 134 year history, particularly so.
As an occasion it is actually rather spectacular then you think about it. 25,000 people were at HQ, compare that to the 20,000 or so that were there for the Heineken Cup semi final between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne a couple of years ago and you suddenly realise what a truly astonishing feat it is to have so many people there.
It must surely be the most well attended truly amateur game in the world – and yes, Jamie Roberts is technically amateur at the moment. Or until Monday at least!
Enjoy the last weekend of the term, I will be back again next week, most likely looking at how things finished up in the Daily Mail Trophy, and also having a look at the U18 Academy Premiership.