There is something very special about the HSBC Rosslyn Park National School 7s, I visit many schools and many tournaments throughout the year, but Rosslyn Park always stands alone at the top of my list of favourites.
It may be hot, it may be cold, sunny, wet, snowy, or windy, it matters not, Rosslyn Park week is always a great week. Though I won’t pretend that the sunny weeks are not even better – though the sun burned scalp of 2012 is one of the less fond memories!
It is special for so many reasons. For us it is a chance not only to see some of the top schools in the country producing some outstanding 7-a-side rugby, but it is also a chance to see some of the less well known schools on the circuit, or schools that we might not have seen a lot of over the course of the season.
We are sometimes, fairly, criticised for not covering enough smaller schools. Essentially it is a resource issue, we cannot be in lots of different places at once, but Rosslyn Park enables us to see all of those that we might have missed before. It is such a crucial part of what we do, for our objective is to raise the profile of schools rugby as a whole.
It is that depth of schools and talent that sets Rosslyn Park apart from all other competitions. It highlights just how good schools rugby is across the board. Whether you are a school going all the way to the final or a school being knocked out in the group stages, there is a fair chance that just about any one of the hundreds of supporters on the touchlines will be saying something along the lines of ‘this is such a high standard compared to my time at school’, and they are all correct.
Schools rugby is a phenomenally high standard these days, and Rosslyn Park is a brilliant showcase of that, from the bottom right up to the top.
In the last two years the competition has played host to two of the finest school teams I have ever witnessed, Wellington College in 2015 and Millfield in 2014.
Both sides played rugby that you never wanted to see stop. Seven minutes each way was not enough, we were all left wanting more.
I suppose that is how you know something is great, it leaves you wanting more. A great book, great film, great sportsperson or great team, they leave you wanting more. Not because you were not given enough by them, but because when the whistle blows, or the music stops, or the last page turns over, that is the end, that greatness will never be seen again.
One great shame is that we never got to see these sides play each other at Rosslyn Park. Millfield of 2014 met Wellington College of 2014 and vice-versa, but Millfield of 2014 could never face Wellington of 2015, naturally.
The other great shame is that both sides were shorn of some of their stars because of England U18 duty. It remains a mystery to me that we cannot organize for the England (and Scotland and Wales) U18, NatWest School Cup, and Rosslyn Park schedules to be separate. How can it possibly be good for schools rugby, for schools rugby players, that the NatWest Cup finals day is not slap bang in the middle of Rosslyn Park week, or that players are taken away from one of the greatest weeks of their schools rugby careers for U18 international duty.
Players and schools should not have to be compromised like that. It is not fair on the schools, it is not fair on those players, and it is not fair on their teammates.
I am no administrator, but I refuse to believe that there is no solution.
Nevertheless, we are set for a great week. Those U18 internationals are going to be fascinating, the inaugural U18 5 Nations competition looks like it will be a huge success, while the NatWest School Cup finals day at Twickenham on Sunday features some truly outstanding school teams, if you have a spare moment do watch Bromsgrove in their U18 Cup final against QEGS Wakefield, just a stunning rugby team.
Rosslyn Park will be, as it always is, a fantastic week. Showcasing the best of schools rugby at all ages. The best not just in terms of rugby quality, but in terms of what makes schools rugby special. Sharing the memories made on and off the field with your best friends, enjoying the camaraderie and the rivalry with other schools, and, ultimately, being able to express yourself on the field.
I can’t wait, and I hope to see as many of you there as possible. It is going to be a very special week.