The biggest week in schoolboy rugby is nearly upon us, with the HSBC Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s and the NatWest Cup finals day taking place, with the Rugby Europe U18 European Championships, and the ISRFC Lambs tour also starting.
Having seen Wellington College go through the 7s season unbeaten so far, and watched them in action at Wednesdayâ€™s Surrey 7s, it is hard to see anyone else as the favourites for the Open at Rosslyn Park. They are very much like Millfield last year, just blowing their opposition away. At times they are utterly destroying teams who are otherwise considered top class.
There are some sides that could catch Wellington cold though. Sedbergh are, as ever, winning trophies, as are Warwick, Kingswood, and Coleg Sir Gar to name just a few. Millfield are certainly one of the sides that could catch Wellington out, they certainly ran them close at the Surrey 7s and could have won that, perhaps a Darren Atkins bit of magic here and there might have made the difference for them.
And that is the one downside to such a great week of schoolboy rugby â€“ player absences and scheduling conflicts. Such is the sheer weight of fixtures that players cannot possibly take part in everything, U18 internationals will not be able to play at Rosslyn Park as they will be underway in the Euros, an understandable but unfortunate situation. Big teams will have big names missing, which could certainly open up the competition to a few others.
The NatWest Cup finals day is on Wednesday this year, rather than the Saturday following Rosslyn Park as in previous years. That means that the Colts & Festival tournaments will clash with NatWest finals day, far from ideal. Hopefully Twickenham will still see a packed stadium though and both competitions will be able to maintain their desired coverage.
The NatWest Cup certainly has a few stories this finals day. In the U18 Cup Dulwich College are chasing an extraordinary fourth title in a row. Following the rule changes after Colstonâ€™s great six in a row back in the nineties, it would be a surprise if anyone ever thought a school could truly dominate the tournament again, but Dulwich have done, and have done so with home produce by and large. It is a remarkable achievement even if they are beaten by Bromsgrove, who certainly pose a threat, indeed pitchside judgment seems to be pretty even as to who the favourites are.
Possibly even more remarkable will be the U15 Cup final though, where Warwick and QEGS Wakefield meet for the third time in succession in the U15 final. That would be incredible at any level, but they each have near enough to a 100% player turnaround at U15 level each year. That means each has had three top quality teams/yeargroups in succession. Warwick will surely be favourites though, they have won the last two and are chasing an U15 record equaling third in a row. This will be QEGSâ€™ 7th School Cup final, yet only once have they grasped silverware, a share with RGS High Wycombe as RGS set that record that Warwick are attempting to break. Could this finally be QEGSâ€™ time though?
The European Championships in Toulouse ought to be interesting too, England are looking to defend their title and have beaten Scotland and France in warm up games, but lost to Wales, who themselves lost to France. All of which suggests that we are set for a close tournament, England will be favourites though, such is their quality and depth.
The Lambs meanwhile head to the USA at the end of the week, fresh from scoring over 70 points in their final warm up game of the season. They really are a throwback to a more carefree era and will play some superb rugby with their â€˜fast and freeâ€™ style and are sure to enjoy their tour on and off the field.
Back to the sevens though, which will grab the focus of just about every school in the country. The week ahead should be thrilling, with the packed out but jovial Prep and Junior tournaments kicking off the Rosslyn Park week before we move into the Colts, Festival, Girls, and Open tournaments.
Of course there is also the question of the AASE sides at Rosslyn Park, what type of sides will they be able to put out? If they are at full strength they will really challenge the perceived pecking order, but with internationals absent, they too will be weakened.
So far though Wellington College have certainly put themselves at the top of the list, playing a brand of 7s that really harks back to the Fijian â€˜golden ageâ€™. They are happy not to step on the gas until it is try time, happy to go backwards, to stretch the play. It is how most sides talk of trying to play but few manage it. Millfield did last year, and Wellington certainly have so far this year.
Whatever happens, and whoever plays, we are looking forward to covering what is always one of the great weeks of schoolboy rugby and as always we want you to help us make it even better by sending in your tweets, photos, videos, predictions and anything else that takes your fancy.
Before we know it, it will be Sunday and the Sedbergh 10s, before the International Triangular Festival with England Counties U18, and the Wellington Festival with the U16 sides. It will be the U20 Junior World Championship in the blink of an eye.
Ahead of such a great week of schools rugby, there are five questions that keep popping into my head, it would be great to get your take on them:
1)Â Â If Dulwich College win, is there a case to call them the best Schools Cup school of all time?
2)Â Â Should Warwick win at U15 level, is their achievement possibly even better than Dulwichâ€™s should they win? (QEGS must not be forgotten amongst all the Warwick praise though!)
3)Â Â Who is better, Wellington College 1st VII 2015 or Millfield 1st VII 2014?
4)Â Â Can we try to ensure next year that Rosslyn Park & the NatWest Cup finals day do not clash?
5)Â Â Could international absentees blow the Rosslyn Park Open wide open?
By Angus Savage