The Schools Rugby season finally kicks off this weekend. It is a stuttered start, with some schools yet to go back and some playing pre-season friendlies, but for some it is the official start of the season.
Some of the top sides from last season are back in official action for the first time this weekend, such as back to back Daily Mail Trophy winners Wellington College and the unbeaten Kirkham Grammar School.
Daily Mail Trophy
The Daily Mail Trophy officially gets underway tomorrow at Marlborough College as the host Magdalen College in an afternoon kick off. Magdalen College finished above Marlborough in the table last season, but Marlborough have not been shy on social media about how hard they have been working under Budge Poutney and they will be looking for an early reward on Friday.
Wellington College get their Daily Mail Trophy defence underway on Saturday in an incredibly tough opening fixture against the always challenging RGS High Wycombe. RGS had an up and down season last year, but the ups were big, reaching the late stages of the NatWest Cup (again) and the St Joseph’s Festival final (also again!). Wellington have lost a number of England internationals this summer and will have to adjust to cope, but they still have the likes on Ben Loader and Dylan Moss available, among others, so expect their title defence to be robust.
In somewhat controversial circumstances, Kirkham Grammar School were runners up in last year’s Daily Mail Trophy. They will be desperate to go one better this year after being so bitterly disappointed last year, particularly after going unbeaten, and they have an opening fixture away at Ellesmere College on Saturday. Historically Kirkham have the edge here, but on the opening weekend, everything is an unknown.
There are three other Daily Mail Trophy fixtures on the opening weekend, giving schools a good chance to get an early place high up in the rankings.
One of the most fascinating will be the local derby between St Edward’s Oxford and Abingdon. Both have been relatively evenly matched in recent years, however in the last couple of year’s rugby at Abingdon has been growing enormously, with former fly half Theo Brophy-Clews likely to be a big player for London Irish in the Championship this year. Abingdon will fancy their chances, but Teddies are always a tough outfit at home and will not let the men in pink have it easy on the opening weekend. It ought to be a cracker.
Keeping things relatively local again is an opening day bout between RGS Worcester and KES Birmingham. RGS finished significantly higher than KES in last year’s table and played some excellent rugby at times, however both sides will feel that this year they can step up their position in the table significantly, come December. Saturday offers both the perfect chance to get off to an imposing start to the season.
The final Daily Mail Trophy fixture of the season sees KCS Wimbledon travel to Skinners’. It ought to be a fascinating game, Skinners’ pitch tends to be one of the toughest to travel to in the winter, where conditions really favour the side used to playing on it. KCS Meanwhile tend to like a wide and expansive game, which often sees them start the season brilliantly, as they have for the past two years. With this being an early season game, but at Skinners’, it could be a really interesting one.
Outside of the Daily Mail Trophy there are plenty of other exciting match ups. Friday sees Tiffin take on Wallington County Grammar, but it is on Saturday where the action really starts to build up.
One of the most exciting games of the entire weekend will see Clifton College host Denstone College. These two have been playing some outstanding rugby over the past couple of year’s, and could well produce fireworks on Saturday on what ought to be a hard pitch that is begging for some exciting running rugby.
RGS Newcastle take one of a number of trips north of the border as the play Scotland’s George Watson’s College, a side renowned for producing international standard players. In another cross border clash, Welsh side Monmouth are in Ireland to take on Christian Brothers College.
King’s Grantham host Nottingham High School for what should be a close game, City of London Freemen’s host Emanuel, with Christ’s Hosptial, responsible for launching Joe Launchbury’s career, travelling to Sevenoaks. St Olave’s meanwhile host Colfe’s.
On Sunday Uppingham return to school and host an exciting tour game as St John’s College from Zimbabwe travel to the Leicester Playing Fields to take on the Rutland outfit.
Pre Season Tournaments
This first weekend of September also plays host to a number of hugely exciting pre-season tournaments on both Saturday and Sunday. There are small gathering such as the three team festival at Royal Hosptial School, to some truly prestigious pre season gongs like the Esher RFC President’s Cup and the Tynedale Festival.
On Saturday there are plenty of tournaments going on across the country, with a number of last year’s best sides featuring. Brentwood, King’s Macclesfield, Reigate Grammar, Royal Hospital School, Shiplake College, Stockport Grammar, and Wellingborough are all hosting Festival tournaments on Saturday.
Among the attendees at Reigate are some of last year’s most impressive teams, including the hosts themselves, as the likes of Tonbridge, St John’s Leatherhead, Reeed’s, and King’s Canterbury come to town.
King’s Macclesfield have a field compromised of teams from around the country, including Solihull, Warwick, Cheltenham College, RGS Lancaster, Bristol Grammar, St Joseph’s College, and Rydal Penrhos.
Royal Hospital School, Brentwood, and Wellington College all host smaller tournaments, Shiplake College too, though their entrants come from all over the country, New Hall and Prior Park both attend and their distance stretches almost the width of the country. Meanwhile over at Stockport, look out for 2013 Daily Mail Trophy Champions, Woodhouse Grove.
Merchant Taylors’ are also hosting an exciting tournament on Saturday, they bring together potential heavy hitters in the form of Seaford College and Haileybury, as well as the likes of Kent College and Northampton School for Boys, the reigning NatWest Vase champions.
On Sunday it is the turn of three of the really big pre-season tournaments, three tournaments that ought to give us a very strong indication of which schools are likely to be challenging at the top this year; the Tynedale Festival, South Coast King’s Festival, and the Esher RFC President’s Cup.
Tynedale has a very varied line up this year, with Merchiston Castle and Fetters coming down from Scotland, Durham making the short hop, while other English side have come from as far and wide as Norwich School.
The Esher President’s Cup could well be one of the most high level tournaments of the year, despite it only being pre-season. Hampton, Whifgift, St Benedict’s, John Fisher, Dulwich College, Trinity, Eltham College, and St John’s Leatherhead are the entrants, and it would be no surprise to see at least one of those side challenging for major silverware somewhere this season. After all, the are three Schools Cup title winners in there, along with last year’s St Joseph’s Festival winners.
King Edward’s Southampton host the South Coast King’s Festival, which will see the most successful side in Schools Cup history attend, Colston’s, one of last year’s star risers, Blundell’s, a potential dark horse for this year, Bishop Wordsworth’s, and one of the very best teams of 2015/16, the Champions Trophy winners, Bedford.
Overall it looks like being a high class start to the season, with the Daily Mail Trophy kicking off and a number of top end pre-season tournaments. It feels like no exaggeration to say that by the end of the weekend, we will have a good feel for who might be on top this year.
More importantly though, it is great to be back! Enjoy the weekend, and don’t forget to send in your scores, photos, videos, and reports! You can send things in to us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org ), Facebook (www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby ), or via Twitter (@FifteenRugbyXV).
Enjoy the weekend!
Schools Rugby Weekend Fixtures (predictions in bold):
Friday 2nd September
Marlborough College v Magdalen College (DMT)
Tiffin v Wallington CGS
Saturday 3rd September
Christian Brothers College, Monktown v Monmouth
City of London Freemen’s v Emanuel
Clifton College v Denstone College
Ellesmere College v Kirkham Grammar School (DMT)
George Watson’s v RGS Newcastle
King’s Grantham v Nottingham High School
RGS Worcester v KES Birmingham (DMT)
Sevenoaks v Christ’s Hospital
Skinners’ v KCS Wimbledon (DMT)
St Edward’s Oxford v Abingdon (DMT)
St Olave’s v Colfe’s
Wellington College v RGS High Wycombe (DMT)
Sunday 4th September
Uppingham v St John’s College, Zimbabwe
Pre Season Tournaments:
Saturday 3rd September
Brentwood @ Brentwood School
King’s School, Macclesfield @ King’s Macclesfield
Merchant Taylors’ School @ Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood
Reigate Grammar School @ Reigate Grammar
Royal Hospital School @ RHS
Shiplake College @ Shiplake
Stockport Grammar School @ Stockport Grammar
Wellingborough @ Wellingborough
Sunday 4th September
Esher RFC President’s Cup @ Esher RFC
South Coast King’s @ King Edward’s, Southampton
Tynedale @ Tynedale RFC