After a week or so of end of pre-season fixtures and a few start of season fixtures, this weekend marks the official start of the school rugby season, and what a weekend it is going to be.
The number of huge head to heads is quite incredible and suggests that the opening weekend is going to be a weekend to remember. In a number of cases it could well set the tone for the season, a good result giving a side the confidence to kick on for the rest of the term. However we have also seen on many occasions that the rustiness of the early season can produce some unexpected results.
One way or another, it should be a great weekend!
Abingdon v Berkhamsted
This fixture really stood out for us, and not just because it is first on the fixture list alphabetically. Abingdon had a good season last year and have been building and investing in their sport well, and this season they will no doubt be looking to kick on. There have been some changes this summer though, with Head Coach Peter Coke moving on and Matthew Gold making the move from John Fisher, with whom he reached the Rosslyn Park final twice, to Oxfordshire.
Berkhamsted have a very interesting season ahead. Like Abingdon they have been getting better and better with each passing season, and last year played some great rugby at times. Even better, though, was the performance of their Colts, who secured an unbeaten season. They now move into the 1st XV this year, which suggests the Berkhamsted are a side to keep an eye on.
Cranleigh v Brighton College
It is great news that this fixture is taking place so early in the season. This game pits last year’s HSBC Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s Open winners, Cranleigh, against last year’s Colts winners at the same tournament. An early season game on hard, dry pitches might just give us an opportunity to see a bit of that 7s style on the fifteen-a-side pitch before the mud comes.
It will be fascinating to see how the two match up, Cranleigh have lost a number of last year’s stars now, though the L6th who experienced the success now take the lead, while all of Brighton’s U16 stars remain, but of course have little to no 1st XV experience. They did not show that over the weekend though as they came out on top at Reigate in a pre-season tournament. It promises to be a fascinating game.
Prediction: Brighton College.
Epsom College v St Paul’s
This fixture really stands out for us. Epsom were brilliant in 2014/15, and up and down in 2015/16, yet reached the Champions Trophy final. They have lost a talisman in Niall Saunders this year, but it is going to be very interesting to see how they perform.
Their Colts won this fixture reasonably comfortably last year, which bodes well for them at 1st XV level on Saturday, however St Paul’s had some really standout results last year, including that stunning win against Wellington College right towards the end of the season. This game could well be too difficult to call, especially this early on.
Prediction: Epsom College, home advantage.
John Fisher v Hampton
These two met in the 3rd place play off of the Esher RFC President’s Cup on Sunday, with John Fisher running out as 5-0 winners. That result bodes well for John Fisher, as does the fact that they did not concede a try all day in that tournament, suggesting that their defence is strong. They are not as big as some previous Fisher sides, but lack no little skill, especially at half back.
Hampton had their ups and downs in pre season, but on Sunday’s evidence they look like a side that could play some lovely rugby if things click. They also have a scrum that looks as though it is going to produce perfect ball time and time again. It will be interesting to see if Saturday plays out like Sunday did, or if the longer game will affect the outcome.
Prediction: John Fisher.
RGS High Wycombe v Stowe
This fixture is something of a schoolboy classic now, perhaps because it repeatedly seem to keep cropping up at crucial times in the NatWest Schools Cup. Last year it was a key 6th round tie, which RGS High Wycombe won 14-0 on a horribly typical late January afternoon.
In the early season though it was Stowe who took the spoils, winning 33-20. Stowe then also won the Vase at Rosslyn Park in March. All of which suggests that Stowe’s style is more suited to the harder grounds, perhaps just giving them the edge on Saturday. Though at this stage of the season, who knows – all we do know is that this is a game that is always worth watching.
RGS Lancaster v QEGS Wakefield
Our theory is that QEGS Wakefield are real dark horses this year. They reached the final of the U18 NatWest Schools Cup last year, and have a team that have all experienced either winning an U15 NatWest Cup, or at least reaching the final.
That sort of pedigree almost always shows through, so QEGS are definitely a side to keep a close eye on this year. So too RGS Lancaster though, who seeing to progress a huge amount last year, promising much for the season ahead. Watching their development will be equally interesting.
Prediction: QEGS Wakfield.
Stamford v Oundle
20th November 2010. Stamford will not thank us for bringing it up once again, but that is the date that Stamford last lost a home game. When talking about a Stamford home fixture, there is only one stat that matters, and it is that.
Can the run continue? Well, at such an early stage of the season it is hard to tell. What is certain is that that record will not go down without a serious fight. Last year saw Stamford lose or draw every away game, yet that proud home record stayed in tact.
From Oundle’s point of view this first game is going to be very interesting as a pointer for the rest of the season. They have had an exciting new addition to their staff, with England World Cup winner Danny Grewcock coming in as Director of Sport, having previously headed up the Bath Academy, working alongside long term Head of Rugby John Olver. However they have also lost two of the best players they have had in twin flankers Ben and Tom Curry, how they cope with their loss will dictate a lot of how their season goes.
Prediction: Stamford. How can we not?
Warwick v Bromsgrove
This is a belter of a fixture and if you are in and around Birmingham and Warwickshire then there is no better place to be on Saturday. Warwick ought to have a brilliant side this year. Their team is made up of the 2014 U15 NatWest Schools Cup winners and the 2015 U15 NatWest Schools Cup runners-up. Everything suggests that they will be a formidable side.
Bromsgrove ought also to be a formidable side though, they are the back to back U18 NatWest Schools Cup champions. They might have lost a lot of star players from those teams now, but last year’s champions had an awful lot of L6th players in the side too, and they will be determined to keep that outstanding legacy going and to repeat Dulwich College’s brilliant three-peat. This could very well be a battle between two of 2016/17’s best sides.
Wellington College v Dulwich College
Talking of big games…these two have got a fair old trophy collection to their names in recent years. Dulwich with NatWest Cup titles in 2012, ’13, and ’14, and Wellington with Daily Mail Trophy titles in 2014 and ’15. Not to mention Wellington’s bursting collection of 7s titles, and the odd St Joseph’s Festival title for Dulwich.
That trophy collection has made this one of the biggest opening day fixtures each year for the last four or five years, producing some classics along the way, including a 13-13 draw in 2013. Last year’s was a fascinating game, Dulwich won it 27-12, but went on to a season that, while decent, did not quite hit the heights of previous campaigns, while Wellington had a few shaky results but recovered to claim the Daily Mail Trophy.
Wellington have lost a huge number of internationals, but make up for it by still having a huge number of internationals! On paper they certainly look like one of the strongest teams yet again. Dulwich appear to be trying out a new style of rugby, legendary Director of Rugby Sam Howard has moved on to Eltham College, former Exeter Chief James Hanks has taken over and at the President’s Cup it looked like he was trying to encourage more of an offloading style of game.
It is always a great spectacle and this year should be no different, no doubt Wellington’s Bigside pitch will be packed out.
Prediction: Wellington College.
Whitgift v Sedbergh
This is a big game no matter what year it happens to be, these are two of the biggest names in schools rugby, and the fact that these two sides plus Millfield and Sedbergh will all play each other this season feels like a fantastic little mini-series.
There is an extra layer of intrigue to this game because both sides look like they are starting the season bang in form. Whitgift picked up the President’s Cup title at Esher RFC on Sunday, with Sedbergh winning Sunday’s Tynedale Festival at Tynedale RFC.
It certainly adds to the spice, and it is highly likely that at least one of these sides will be right at the top end of the Daily Mail Trophy table this year, if not both. It is a long trip for Sedbergh on Saturday, but they are no strangers to that, with Millfield, Broadstreet RFC, Sixways Stadium, and plenty of other faraway venues on their regular season circuit, so it would be a surprise if that were to impact the result. It ought to be spectacular.
Around the Grounds
Those ten fixtures are far from the only games of intrigue on this weekend, they are roughly eighty in our predictions list below, and numerous others, not to mention Colts, Junior Colts, U14s, and 2nd XVs, 3rd XV and lower.
One fixture that ought to be worth paying attention to is Bedford v Uppingham. The Champions Trophy finalists will be looking for a strong start to the season, having lost a lot of key players. They still have plenty of quality though, but will want to lay down an early mark.
Blundell’s v Bristol Grammar ought to be decent too, Blundell’s were on form in pre-season last weekend at the South Coast King’s Festival, so onlookers will be paying close attention to see if that form continues into the regular season. Moving further north Grammar School at Leeds v Ampleforth College is worth keeping an eye on, GSAL were in the Champions Trophy final just two years ago, while every year the school rugby world watches Ampleforth College early on to see if the old powerhouse might start reaching the upper echelons again, perhaps this is the year.
Keep an eye on Harrow v Felsted too, Harrow were a very good side last year, especially in 7s, and ought to be again this year. However Felsted are a side on the up, so it will be worth keeping an eye on how they go in a tough season opener. Another up and comer is New Hall they play the Perse and will want to lay an early marker.
There is a Sussex derby between Hurstpierpoint College and Seaford College. Both have been busy on social media through pre-season, with some punishing looking regimes, hopefully that will translate to an excellent game.
Marlborough College v Bryanston is a fixture straight from the schools rugby classic archive, both have superb facilities and strong teams, and this ought to be a great occasion. Saturday also sees two huge stars of schools rugby make their debuts for the season, Millfield will host Canford while the National Rugby Awards School Team of the Year, Kirkham Grammar, are away at last year’s NatWest Vase winners, Northampton School for Boys.
St Peter’s York v Woodhouse Grove looks a tasty encounter, St Peter’s had a very strong showing last year as they finished 15th in the Daily Mail Trophy and had a strong run in the NatWest Cup. Woodhouse Grove meanwhile were back in the sort of form that saw them win the Daily Mail Trophy in 2013 as they rose to a 6th place finish, with only the unbeaten Bedford, Kirkham, and Bromsgrove, plus the schoolboy powerhouses of Wellington College and Sedbergh ahead of them. Can both sides kick on even further this year? Saturday might just give us a clue.
In Scotland the key game is Merchiston Castle v George Watson’s College Merchiston reached the Tynedale final on Sunday, losing to Sedbergh, while the previous day George Watson’s defeated RGS Newcastle.
RGS are actually in action on Friday night against Durham at Kingston Park, a game that is always a great spectacle, and there is another schools rugby Friday Night Lights encounter further south as St George’s College play Reed’s at Reeds Weybridge RFC.
Back to Saturday and across to Wales, where Monmouth host Clifton College. Monmouth are just back from tour in Ireland, while Clifton have been going hard in England, finishing with a strong win over Denstone last week. These two will both be good sides this year.
No first preview of the season would be worth its salt without mention of the founders of rugby, Rugby School, who host St Edward’s Oxford on Saturday. Teddies lost to Abingdon on Saturday so will want to bounce back fast. One side to keep an eye on are Bishop Wordsworth’s, they travel to Sherborne, for what is always a good fixture, and this year both could have very decent teams.
Among the many other exciting fixtures, and apologies to those not mentioned, is a triangular festival on Saturday between Eton College, Pangbourne College, and Radley College, which should also produce some excellent rugby.
All in all it looks as though we are set for a brilliant start to the season, now just bring on Saturday!
Don’t forget to share your results with us, and if you have any photos, reports, or videos from the weekend’s school rugby, please do send them into us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org ), Facebook (www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby ), or via Twitter (@FifteenRugbyXV).
Schools Rugby Fixtures, Saturday 10th September (Predictions in bold):
(DMT – Daily Mail Trophy Fixture)
Focus On Fixtures:
Abingdon v Berkhamsted (DMT)
Cranleigh v Brighton College (DMT)
Epsom College v St Paul’s
John Fisher v Hampton (DMT)
RGS High Wycombe v Stowe (DMT)
RGS Lancaster v QEGS Wakefield (DMT)
Stamford v Oundle (DMT)
Warwick v Bromsgrove (DMT)
Wellington College v Dulwich College (DMT)
Whitgift v Sedbergh (DMT)
Altrincham GS v Cheadle Hulme
Barnard Castle v Yarm (DMT)
Bedford v Uppingham (DMT)
Bedford Modern v Haileybury (DMT)
Bell Baxter v Loretto
Bishop’s Stortford College v St Joseph’s College
Blundell’s v Bristol GS (DMT)
Cheltenham College v Malvern College (DMT)
Chislehurst & Sidcup GS v City of London Freemen’s
Christ’s Hospital v Reigate Grammar
Colfe’s v St Dunstan’s
Colston’s v Prior Park
Cranbrook v Sevenoaks
Denstone College v Oakham (DMT)
Duke of York RMS v King’s Canterbury
Eastbourne College v Tonbridge (DMT)
Eltham College v Judd
Fettes College v Glenalmond
Grammar School at Leeds v Ampleforth College (DMT)
Haberdashers’ v St Columba’s College
Halliford v KES Southampton
Harrow v Felsted
Hereford Cathedral v Plymouth College
Hurstpierpoint College v Seaford College (DMT)
Hymers College v Bradford GS (DMT)
KCS Wimbledon v Caterham
King’s Grantham v Loughborough
Kingswood v KES Bath
King’s Worcester v Solihull (DMT)
Langley Park v Skinners’
London Oratory v Glyn
Magdalen College v Bloxham
Marlborough College v Bryanston (DMT)
Manchester Grammar v King’s Macclesfield (DMT)
Merchant Taylors’ v St Albans
Merchiston Castle v George Watson’s
Millfield v Canford (DMT)
Monmouth v Clifton College (DMT)
New Hall v The Perse
Northampton SfB v Kirkham GS (DMT)
Norwich v The Leys
Nottingham HS v King Edward VI, Stratford
Old Swinford Hospital v Ellesmere College (DMT)
Oratory v Worth
Pocklington v Ashville College (DMT)
Princethorpe College v King Henry VIII Coventry
Queen’s College Taunton v Downside
QEH v Sir Thomas Rich’s
RGS Guildford v Portsmouth GS (DMT)
RGS Worcester v Dean Close
Royal Hospital School v Ipswich
Rugby v St Edward’s, Oxford
Sandbach v Stockport Grammar (DMT)
Sherborne v Bishop Wordsworth’s (DMT)
Shiplake College v Reading Blue Coat
St Ambrose College v Wilmslow HS (DMT)
Stewart’s Melville v Strathallan
St John’s Leatherhead v Wimbledon College (DMT)
St Peter’s York v Woodhouse Grove (DMT)
Trent College v Bishop Vesey’s GS
UCS v Tiffin
Wallington CGS v St Olave’s GS
Wisbech GS v Wymondham College
Wycliffe College v Wells Cathedral
*Eton College, Pangbourne College, Radley College – Triangular Pre-Season Festival
Friday 9th September
RGS Newcastle v Durham
St George’s College v Reed’s (DMT)