The draw for the 2015/16 NatWest Schools Cup has been made. The competition kicks off in September, culminating on the 16th March at Twickenham Stadium, where Bromsgrove will hope to defend their 2015 title.
Bromsgrove are in a tricky looking Midlands A section, with will likely see them open their account against KES Aston, last yearâ€™s Vase semi finalists. Matches against Bishop Veseyâ€™s, Solihull, and a strong dark horse contender, Abingdon, look likely to follow.
Bromsgrove look the favourites to progress though, with Abindgon close behind, while Bedford Modern in the top half of the section, who begin against Samuel Whitbread in Round 1, also a big threat.
Last yearâ€™s beaten finalists, Dulwich College, who won the previous three tournaments, have left to join the Champions Trophy, however their traditional London & South East sections still look very strong indeed.
London & South East A sees 2010 and 2011 champions Whitgift in residence, along with St Benedictâ€™s, former champions Campion, last yearâ€™s semi finalists, who beat Whitgift in the quarters, St Josephâ€™s College, and Felsted, who have produced some top players of late.
Among the games worth catching in the section are Caterham v KCS Wimbledon in Round 1, and a possible round 2 tie between local rivals Seaford College and Hurstpierpoint College.
London & South East B sees a stack of strong contenders given byes, Hampton are back in the section after a dalliance in the South West last year and take a bye, while Harrow too have a bye. Trinity impressed last year and have a bye thanks to that, while John Fisher, fresh from some impressive 7s, will fancy a real crack at this cup this year. Also worth keeping an eye on are Reigate Grammar School, whose impressive 2014/15 Colts progress to the 1st XV this year. They play Howard of Effingham first up.
The North as ever has a couple of busy and unpredictable looking sections. 2010 finalists RGS Newcastle are back in the competition in North A and start with a bye, while former Vase winners Yarm face Hartlepool in the first round and Ashville v Ampleforth looks like one of the top ties of the opening week.
Stonyhurst College and St Peterâ€™s York could be dark horses, though that makes three years running that we at Fifteen Rugby have named Stonyhurst as dark horses.
QEGS Wakefield, back in the competition after a year in the Champions Trophy, will fancy replicating last yearâ€™s U15 triumph. They have reached three finals but are yet to win at U18 level.
North B looks a slightly less tricky section, Lymm High School look the favourites and start with a bye, but the likes of Wilmslow High School, Hymers College, Woodhouse Grove, and others, will fancy a good crack at an open section.
Midlands B, the pair to Bromsgroveâ€™s Midlands A, sees some headline grabbing names on the list. Warwick will certainly be amongst the favourites, they start with a bye, and every yeargroup they are selecting from has won the Cup already at U15 level, always a sign of promise at 1st XV level.
Rivalling them will be Oundle, who reached last yearâ€™s semi finals with the inspired Curry brothers leading the charge, they are in upper 6th now and Oundle will once again be a thorn in the side of most teams.
Also lining up in that section are local rivals RGS Worcester and Kingâ€™s Worcester, while two recent former finalists in Old Swinford Hospital and Northampton School for Boys are also lurking.
There are certainly plenty of strong teams knocking around in the South West too, notably RGS High Wycombe in South West A, they face Upton Court in their first game.
Vase champions Churcherâ€™s College are also in South West A, along with Stowe, who perhaps surprisingly are asked to play in the opening round, v Cokethorpe, and then would face Pangoburne College if they progress. Sir Thomas Richâ€™s and Kingâ€™s College Taunton have also caused plenty of problems in the past for big names.
South West B really does look open, and last yearâ€™s surprise package Dauntseyâ€™s will really fancy their chances of progressing to the national stages. The most successful side ever in NatWest Cup history, Colstonâ€™s, are also lurking along with former champions St Peterâ€™s Gloucester. At this stage the tie of the second round looks like being the Truro School v Plymouth College game.
The U15s, naturally, is always a little harder to predict that the U18s, however there are some great match ups already looking likely even at this early stage.
Last yearâ€™s champions QEGS Wakefield will almost certainly have to beat their semi final opponents last year, Wirral Grammar School, before probably facing Kirkham Grammar School and RGS Newcastle. A nightmare draw if ever there was one.
Warwick, who were beaten last year after winning the previous two, have a much easier start, but it is to the north where the most likely challenges seem to be, with Sedbergh also entering the fray. With the likes of wellington College, Epsom College, Dulwich College, and Millfield, as well as Sedbergh and the many others, the U15 competition really is a level test of the very best school sides in the country, the sort of competition that all U18 level competitions strive to be able to put together.
It is certainly going to be competitive and well worth paying attention to.
Naturally though the U18s will probably receive the most column inches, with the question on everyoneâ€™s lips right now being â€˜will Bromsgrove retain their titleâ€™? Certainly they have a tricky draw, and there are many top teams already highlighted, with form sure to add a few more to the mix. As ever, it will be fascinating to see it unfold.
U18 Cup Highlights (by section) â€“ Key teams, exciting 1st round games, and all confirmed 2nd round games:
RGS Newcastle (Bye)
Yarm v Hartlepool 6th form College (Rd 1)
Ashville College v Ampleforth College (Rd 1)
Prince Henryâ€™s GS v Ermystedâ€™s GS (Rd 2)
Harrogate GS v St Peterâ€™s York (Rd 2)
Hutton GS v Stonyhurst College (Rd 2)
RGS Lancaster v Ripley St Thomasâ€™ (Rd 2)
St John Fisher, Harrogate v Ilkley GS (Rd 2)
Rishworth v QEGS Wakefield (Rd 2)
QEGS Ashbourne v Fallibroome (Rd 2)
Sale GS v St Ambrose College/Stockport GS (Rd 2)
St Anselmâ€™s v King Williamâ€™s College (Rd 2)
Lymm High School (Bye)
Wirral GS v MTS, Crosby (Rd 2)
Cheadle Hulme v Wilmslow High School (Rd 2)
Bishop Heber v Sandbach (Rd 2)
Sir John Dean v St Josephâ€™s College, Stoke (Rd 2)
Hymers College (Bye)
Runshaw College v AKS Arnold (Rd 2)
Bolton v Bury College (Rd 2)
Crossley Heath v Woodhouse Grove (Rd 2)
Craven College v Giggleswick (Rd 2)
Samuel Whitbread v Bedford Modern (Rd 1)
Bishopâ€™s Stortford High School v The Leys (Rd 2)
Hitchingbrooke v Kingâ€™s Peterborough (Rd 2)
The Perse v St Ivo (Rd 1)
Bishop Veseyâ€™s (Bye)
Kingâ€™s Worcester (Bye)
Shrewsbury v Adams Grammar (Rd 2)
RGS Worcester (Bye)
Old Swinford Hospital (Bye)
Greshamâ€™s v Wymondham (Rd 2)
Bishop Stopford v Northampton School for Boys (Rd1)
Trent College v Kingâ€™s Grantham (Rd 2)
Loughborough GS v Leicester GS (Rd 2)
London & South East A
Seaford College v Worthing/Hurstpierpoint College (Rd 2)
St Benedictâ€™s (Bye)
Wimbledon College (Bye)
Caterham v KCS Wimbledon (Rd 1)
Thomas Mills v St Josephâ€™s College (Rd 1)
Saffron Walden v Felsted (Rd 1)
London & South East B
John Fisher (Bye)
Reigate GS v Howard of Effingham (Rd 1)
St Georgeâ€™s Weybridge (Bye)
South West A
Bishop Wordsworthâ€™s (Bye)
Akeley Wood v St Paulâ€™s, Milton Keynes (Rd 2)
Upton Court GS v RGS High Wycombe (Rd 2)
Cokethorope/Stowe v Pangbourne College (Rd 2)
Sir Thomas Richâ€™s (Bye)
Portsmouth GS (Bye)
Bridgwater College v Kingâ€™s College Taunton (Rd 2)
South West B
Torquay Boys GS v Wellington School (Rd 2)
Exeter School v Mount Kelly (Rd 2)
Penwith College v Helston Community College (Rd 2)
Truro School v Plymouth College (Rd 2)
Holyrood Academy v Exeeer College (Rd 2)
West Buckland v Richard Huish (Rd 2)
Frome College v Melksham Oak (Rd 2)
St Peterâ€™s Gloucester (Bye)
Malmesbury v St Lawrence (Rd 2)