As we all head off into a, hopefully, quiet and relaxing half term, it is worth reflecting on what has been a brilliant first half of term and looking ahead to an exciting second half.
It all started with a superb opening weekend of the season, that saw a number of incredibly close games and some big statement results, and it has finished with a stunning St Joseph’s Festival, culminating on one of the most dramatic finals in the tournament’s 30 year history as Cranleigh claimed the silverware ahead of Brighton College as a result of having scored the first try in their 10-10 draw in the final.
In between we have had some tremendous Saturday block fixtures, the NatWest Cup champions, Bromsgrove, have been toppled and then recovered, Harrow have proven to be a top side this year, and Stamford lost their six year unbeaten home record following defeat to Oakham, who themselves are looking formidable this year.
That formidable form has taken them to the quarter finals of the NatWest Champions Trophy, where the holders Bedford are also safely through. Or through, at least, they were made to work very had by St Paul’s. Joining those two are Wales’ Monmouth, last year’s runners up Epsom College, their semi final opponents from last year, Blundell’s, a rampant Canford side, Eton College, and Tonbridge, who saw off 2014 Champions Millfield in the previous round.
After half term that competition will hit its conclusion fast, with the quarter finals all done and dusted by the close of play on the 9th November, the semi finals taking place a week later, and the final taking place on Wednesday 30th November at Allianz Park, sharing the stage with the AASE final, as was the case last year.
The second half of term will also see the NatWest Cup, Plate, Vase, and Bowl progress rapidly. Already we are two or three rounds in, depending on the competition, and the new format has seen some big names fall early on, given the more competitive nature early on now. It has been superb so far, and is only set to get better.
Then we have the Daily Mail Trophy, which caused controversy towards the end of last year. Wellington College are chasing three titles in a row and are sitting in second, with Sedbergh in hot pursuit in third, while Harrow are currently leading the field and looking like they might just be the side to beat at the moment.
It has been a fine opening half of the season, and the second half only looks set to get better.
What might be the only fly in the ointment is the weather. The rugby at times at the beginning of this season has been utterly sublime, with some exceptional handling and ambition. If as a nation we are to consistently challenge the likes of the All Blacks, that ambition to play and ball handling is key, and it is helped and promoted so much by decent weather.
We have been incredibly lucky to have a reasonably dry start to the season, and where it has not be there has to be a huge amount of praise given to the school grounds staff. The standard of pitches now is outstanding, and even on the most yellow and dry or brown and wet of fields, a shining and luscious green space that is the 1st XV rugby field can always be spotted. Indeed it is rare now that it is just the 1st XV field,
However the weather will likely close in after half term, and with that the ball will be kept tighter and the play more pragmatic. It is a shame, and something we can do little about, but it is definitely worth reflecting on and remembering the beauty of the rugby that has been on show.
On that subject, how about moving the 7s season to the summer term and avoiding the need to cancel tournaments in January and February thanks to the weather? Just a thought.
Of course this week’s newsletter could not pass without mention of the tragic passing of Munster’s Head Coach, Anthony Foley.
Foley epitomized what Munster rugby was all about in that period from the late nineties to the mid 2000s. In many ways you might describe him as Paul O’Connell’s Paul O’Connell, and that is the highest of praise. He helped to build the Munster pack that became the Ireland pack that built the foundation that those Leinster backs were able to build on to add the sparkle that saw Ireland finally land that elusive Grand Slam in 2009. He might not have been part of the team anymore, but his efforts on the field and his inspirational presence for those young Munster forwards, the O’Connell’s, O’Callaghan’s, and Wallace’s of this world, helped build that foundations that led to that historic title.
It was as a Munsterman that he will be best remembered though, a Munsterman and a rugby man, and how fitting to see the whole rugby community pull together to celebrate his life and to support his club, country, family, and friends.