Finally, after a term of building and progress for most, the HSBC Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s have arrived.
It is all set to be as good as ever, although in the last 24 hours the weather forecast has switched from pleasant but cloudy to rain, lots of rain. The good news is that depending on your weather source either Wednesday of Friday is set to be dry, in the main.
We ought to see a full weekâ€™s play though, unlike 2013 when the Colts tournament had to be cancelled to protect the rest of the tournament, a tough but ultimately necessary decision given the bog that the tournament found itself in.
The schedule this year looks like this:
Monday â€“ Junior & Prep Tournaments Begin
Tuesday â€“ Junior & Prep Knockouts, Colts Tournament Begins
Wednesday â€“ Colts Knockouts, Festival Tournament Begins
Thursday â€“ Festival Knockouts, Open Tournament Begins
Friday â€“ Open Knockouts, Girls & Girls AASE Tournaments
Last yearâ€™s Junior and Prep tournaments were won by RGS High Wycombe and Millfield respectively, both of whom as traditionally strong rugby schools you would expect to be in the mix again this year.
The Colts tournament was won by QEGS Wakefield last year, their team showing the quality that they had shown a year earlier by reaching the U15 NatWest Cup final, this yearâ€™s crop also achieved that title, but will be wary of the side that beat them, Warwick, who will also be looking to translate quality U15 fifteen-a-side achievement into U16 seven-a-side achievement.
The usual suspects of Millfield, Wellington College, Sedbergh, et al, will surely also be a threat to QEGSâ€™ defence, and throughout the tournament we will also probably get a fair indication of who might be looking strong for next seasonâ€™s 1st XV rugby.
The great beauty of the Colts tournament as well is that there is no Festival/Open split, everyone is in there together, and also some of the conditioning that 1st XV players have has not quite been reached yet, meaning the average is a less physical and slightly freer game.
Last year Bedford picked up the Festival title, but they have since moved to the Open as the organisers try to shift as many recently successful sides as possible into the same competition.
That leaves KCS Wimbledon, runners up last year, as the top seeds but they are going to find that the Festival is still as tough a tournament as any in which to find success.
Just scrolling through the draw, every group seems to have at least one side who could really make a mark on the tournament, a situation that can only be good. With the â€˜biggestâ€™ names over in the Open, the Festival looks like a truly open tournament that could be won by anyone. KCS sit in Group A, Canford Group B, Kingâ€™s Macclesfield and Dauntseyâ€™s Group C, Seaford College and Stonyhurst Group D, Clifton and Stamford Group E, Monmouth Group F, Blundellâ€™s Group G, the list goes on in much the same manner.
Looking at this seasonâ€™s 7s results though, there are two teams who looks as though they stand out having collected plenty of finals and a few trophies between them. Kirkham Grammar School, in Group I, and Kingswood in Group Y. Both have tricky groups though, the likes of Cranleigh and New Hall for Kirkahm Grammar, and a particularly tricky one for Kingswood with Pangbourne, Bishop Wordsworthâ€™s, Eltham College, and Loughborough Grammar.
They are probably the two that are most in form, but the Festival really does look wide open, and there will be a team in every group that fancies their chances.
If the Festival looks wide open, the Open looks like it is Wellington Collegeâ€™s to lose. Perennial Festival winners, Wellington College switched to the Open last year and look like they could well claim the title this year having swept the board so far this season, winning everything they have entered, without losing a single game, scoring points for fun, and capping it all off with a 17-12 victory over last yearâ€™s dominant side Millfield in the final of Wednesdayâ€™s Surrey 7s.
Wellington are in Group I, with Myerscough and Wilmslow High School likely to cause them the most problems. They will be pretty confident of progress though.
Last yearâ€™s champions, Millfield, are in Group A. They lead the chasing pack behind Wellington, having been almost as good as them at Surrey and having collected plenty of trophies themselves this season. Indeed one stray pass going to hand on Wednesday could have seen them pick up the trophy instead. They will certainly challenge.
Elsewhere, St Josephâ€™s College could go a fair way from Group D. They reached the semi finals at Surrey but were soundly beaten by Wellington. They are certainly challengers here though. The progress of Merchiston Castle alongside them will also be interesting.
Group E with Hampton and Warwick should be another very interesting one, with a both sides potential threats come the knockouts. Group F is maybe the most competitive of the lot with Bedford, Campion, Coleg Sir Gar, Henley College, and Y Preseli in contention. Bedford at the Festival holders, Sir Gar are Llandovery 7s champions and Surrey 7s finalists. Henley College are Surrey 7s quarter finalists and a good AASE side, Campion have surprised with their excellent 7s progress this season too. It really ought to be a group to watch.
Of course Hartpury College in Group H will be interesting, with a full squad and some 7s training they could very well win the title. On the other hand if they send a depleted squad having lifted the AASE title on Wednesday, they will not be such a worry for other sides. They have the potential to be the joker in the pack though.
Sedbergh in Group M are also part of that chasing pack that will be aiming to topple Wellington College. Sedbergh won the tournament in 2013 and were Plate runners up in 2014, and having won plenty of tournaments again this year, they will fancy a real tilt at this title again.
The team they faced in both of those finals, 2013 and 2014, were Woodhouse Grove. They are in Group N but are possibly less of a threat this year.
Whatever happens, we are sure for an excellent competition, and as John Fisher showed last season it is possible to build through the competition and finish up as one of the best, as their run to become runners up showed.
The Girls AASE final last year was won by Hartpury College, and as ever they will be the strong favourites this year. The Open tournament was picked up by Clyst Vale, who return again this year and will be looking to try to make it back to back titles. With twenty different teams competing though, it is sure to be an intense competition.
Of course the details of the draw for each competition are vital, so here are the links to each of the draws:
Whatever happens, we are all set for a great week of seven-a-side rugby!