At 14.30 on Wednesday afternoon at Allianz Park, we will witness one of the biggest school games of the year, the Champions Trophy final, Bedford v Epsom College.
From a bright idea that could or could not have taken off back in the early summer of 2014, the Champions Trophy, now in its second season, has fast become one of the most popular and important tournaments in schoolboy rugby.
Many would argue that such is the quality of teams in the tournament that it rivals the NatWest Cup for prestige already, despite it being a draw of just 32 compared to the hundreds of NatWest Cup entrants.
You can see why, the standard of rugby produced, and the entertainment on show in each of the games, is on a level that you do not often see. It is schools rugby at its finest.
Highlights: Sedbergh v Bedford, Champions Trophy Semi Final
Two great exponents of that have been Wednesday’s two finalists, Bedford and Espom, and never was that shown better than in their two stunning finals.
A stunning 101 points were scored across their two semi finals, with both wining in stunning fashion, Epsom College holding off an inspired Blundell’s fightback to win 27-23, and Bedford staging an inspired comeback of their own as they came from 24-15 down to beat the mighty Sedbergh in the wet.
Both sides have tremendous ability, results wise, Bedford perhaps have had the edge this season, they are yet to lose compared to Epsom dropping four games. But those games that Epsom have lost have come against high class opposition.
Highlights: Epsom College v Blundell’s, Champions Trophy Semi Final
Bedford love to play with the ball, moving it wide, with fly half Oli Burgess a key man for keeping them ticking over, and Fraser Dingwall a key man at full back too.
Up front they are led by loosehead George Cave, whom you can expect to put in a back row like shift. The back row is always a Bedford strength, they love to use them as big ball carries but spread across the pitch, look out for number 8 Jake Carter.
Espom’s key to their ticking over is Harlequins scrum half, and their captain, Niall Saunders. Saunders missed the semi finals and will be raring to go for this final. Adam Causer’s boot at 12 is a key factor too, his kicking was ultimately the difference in the semi final against Blundell’s.
Like Bedford, Epsom always have big ball carrying back rowers and use them across the park. Number 8 James Gulliver is key in that regard, while in the semi final openside William Onslow-Wyld was sensational with the ball in hand.
From the outside, for Epsom this feels like a bit of a second chance in this competition. Last year they were rightly regarded as one of the favourites but they fell to a shock defeat away at Oakham in the quarter finals, where a bit of an injury crisis did them no favours. For the likes of Saunders, this represents a chance to make up for last year.
Bedford also took part in last year’s inaugural competition. They went out in the second round, but it was to the eventual finalists, Grammar School at Leeds, by just 13 points to 10, so you suspect there might have been some comfort in that for them.
Ultimately though, this game is about these two teams right here, right now. Not last year’s sides.
These are two top class school teams, who are set to enjoy an experience that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. For some it might be the start of a career spent playing in stadiums, for others this could be the highlight of their rugby lives, win or lose. For all it will be something that they will never forget, reaching a final with your mates is a special experience, and one that never fades.
All that we in the stands can hope is that the rugby matches the occasion, these two sides are certainly capable of it, and if they produce, we are in for a treat.
Champions Trophy Final – Bedford v Epsom College – Allianz Park, Wednesday 25th November, 14.30 kick off. LIVE STREAMED
Road to Allianz Park:
Semi Final: 27-24 v Sedbergh
Quarter Final: 26-5 v Sherborne
Last 16: w/o v Cheltenham College
Round 1: w/o v Farringdon CC
Semi Final: 27-23 v Blundell’s
Quarter Final: 52-12 v Haileybury
Last 16: 24-7 v Eton College
Round 1: w/o v Eastbourne College
Daily Mail Trophy: Currently 4th, Played 6, Won 6, Lost 0.
Full Season: Played 9, Won 9, Lost 0.
2014 Champions Trophy: Last 16 (10-13 Grammar School at Leeds)
Daily Mail Trophy: Currently 56th, Played 7, Won 3, Lost 4.
Full Season: Played 10, Won 6, Lost 4.
2014 Champions Trophy: Quarter Finals (15-17 v Oakham)
15 Fraser Dingwall, 14 Faysal Olabooye, 13 Shay Boyd, 12 Fraser Strachan, 11 Tunde Adewale, 10 Oliver Burgess (vc), 9 Jack Dalton, 1 George Cave (c), 2 William Kerr, 3 Colston Kane, 4 Philip Cooper, 5 David Hickey, 6 Simon Beal, 7 Charlie Clarke, 8 Jake Carter.
Replacements: 16 Edward Jonson, 17 Euan Weed, 18 William Bowes, 19 William Entwistle, 20 Oliver Hind, 21 Alexander Dennis, 22 Joseph Rogers.
15 Harry Cooke, 14 William Kibblewhite, 13 Gareth Stephens, 12 Adam Causer, 11 Peter O’Brien, 10 Isaac Braithwaite, 9 Niall Saunders (c), 1 Oscar Vaughan, 2 Callum Torpey, 3 Elliot King, 4 William Hobday, 5 Connor Norris, 6 Oscat Waite, 7 William Onslow-Wyld, 8 James Gulliver.
Replacements: 16 Tristan Bartlett, 17 Angus Clements, 18 Nicholas Phizackerley, 19 Ivo Slot, 20 Max Turner, 21 Jamie Anderson, 22 Nicholas Whitehead.