Sunday saw the final stages of pre-season for a number of schools, with some of the biggest pre season Festivals taking place.
One such festival was the annual President’s Cup at Esher RFC. Every year this is a key tournament for the eight entrants, and this year was no different, with some hugely competitive rugby played and a few indications of who might be among the movers and shakers in the region this season.
This year saw Eltham College and St John’s Leatherhead make their tournament debuts, with last year’s champions Whitgift returning along with John Fisher, Dulwich College, Trinity, St Benedict’s, and the current St Joseph’s Festival champions, Hampton, all returning.
It was to prove another flying start to the season for Whitgift, who picked up the Cup for the second year running, beating newcomers St John’s Leatherhead 5-0 in the final.
It was an impressive outing from Whitgift, who looked the strongest side throughout the day, mixing good physicality with some real pace and adventure out wide.
St John’s too were impressive, their rugby program has been accelerating at high speed over the last few years, and they have the look of a side that will cause plenty a fair few problems this season. Getting to the final among such a strong field as this only serves to demonstrate that. Their scrum in particular looks like it will cause problems.
So too will Hampton’s, their pack might not be the biggest but they drove just about everyone backwards in the scrum with superb technique. Out wide they played with ambition, and with some match practice could become potent, they performed well to finish fourth.
They were pipped to third though by an impressive John Fisher side. Fisher were defensively robust all day, and came out with the top defensive effort of the day having gone throughout the entre competition without conceding a try.
It was not just a simple rearguard effort from Fisher though, their play with the ball in hand was exciting, with their half backs looking sharp. Dulwich College turned up with a new brand of rugby, moving away from their usual structured approach to a game based around multiple offloads.
Eltham College look to be a side on the up, while Trinity might still need a couple of games, they play Wallington County Grammar on Wednesday, which ought to be a good last hit out for them. St Benedict’s, meanwhile had a tough break in facing St John’s and John Fisher early on, but beat Trinity in good fashion, looking in good nick so early in the season.
Whitgift were truly the standout side though, not just playing well, but looking more physically imposing than many of the other sides. With Sedbergh coming to visit this Saturday they will need to be right at their best right from the off as the Cumbrians sealed the equally prestigious Tynedale Festival title, beating Merchiston Castle in the final. Whitgift’s performance in the President’s Cup suggests that they should be ready to meet that challenge head on though.
As ever, the President’s Cup was a great way to kick off the season, but now pre-season is over, onto the heavy stuff!
2016 Esher RFC President’s Cup Champions – Whitgift
You can see a small collection of photos from the President’s Cup here: President’s Cup Gallery