The 2016 Champions Trophy final takes place on Friday at Allianz Park.
The 14.30 kick off sees the reigning champions, Bedford, take on one of the most famous rugby playing schools in the country, Tonbridge.
Both sides have played some outstanding rugby this season, both inside the competition and out. Between them they have lost just three games all season. Tonbridge have only dropped games to Wellington College and Harrow, arguably the two best sides in the country if their positions as first and second in the Daily Mail Trophy are anything to go by.
Bedford meanwhile have only lost to Oakham, and by a single point, 13-12. That defeat adds a layer of intrigue when it comes to this game though as Tonbridge’s semi final came against Oakham. Tonbridge had to work hard but eventually took it by a comfortable 19-8 margin.
That might suggest an edge for Tonbridge, but ignores the fluctuations of form, fitness, and luck that exist in schools rugby. A more revealing comparison is Bedford’s own semi final win, where they came from behind against a tough Epsom College side in one of the fiercest games of the season to win 10-5.
The conclusion has to be that this is going to be an incredibly close and intensely competitive and physical game of rugby. Both sides have some big and powerful players in their pack and a great blend of skill, physicality, and determination in the backline.
The Champions Trophy final has, in its two previous editions, produced high scoring finals. Last year Bedford beat Epsom College 28-21, while the inaugural competition in 2014 was won by Millfield, who beat Grammar School at Leeds 31-24.
Both finals look reasonably close on the scoreboard, but in truth were pretty comfortable affairs for both Bedford and Millfield. This year looks set to be far from comfortable though. Without a shadow of a doubt, these are two of the best around, and their styles of rugby are likely to cause each other real problems.
Tonbridge tend to play a tighter game, using their big tight five around the corner and softening up their opposition through tight phase play before then exploding away.
Bedford’s pack’s size and strength, almost always, seems to be in their back row. They use them in the wide channels, use the full width of the pitch from side to side, making big yardage gains.
The two captains, George Head in the front row for Tonbridge and Fraser Dingwall in the centres for Bedford, are outstanding prospects and lead their teams with a fierce determination and a work rate that both drives their respective teams on and epitomises the sheer will that both sides have had to show on their way to Friday’s battle at Allianz Park.
There is no doubt that Friday’s encounter will be one of the very biggest games in schools rugby this season, that is how big the Champions Trophy has become in three short years. The quality of teams in this competition is truly outstanding, and the intensity and frequency of the fixtures, mixed with Saturday block games, makes the season a real test of each school’s full squad.
Back to back wins for Bedford would be a truly outstanding feat, on a par with any side who ever won back to back NatWest Cup titles. Meanwhile a win for Tonbridge, much like Millfield’s in 2014, would demonstrate exactly what makes this competition so special, bringing sides who previously did not enter Cup competitions into a national and hugely competitive competition where they face sides that they ordinarily do not.
Both sides have had to work incredibly hard to get to this final. Tonbridge had to withstand a stunning Hampton comeback just to make it through the first round before they put in one of the performances of the competition to beat Millfield 26-7 in the last 16.
An 18-10 win away at Eton College followed in the quarter finals before that brutal encounter up at Oakham in the semi final, where they had to overcome an incredibly determined defensive effort from the home side to win 19-8.
Bedford were handed a bye in the first round thanks to their status as champions, but were given a real test in the last 16 by St Paul’s. They trailed the South West London side through most of the game but proved their championship winning mentality to score a brilliant try in the last play of the game, winning 16-13.
If that game was a sign of their mental strength and ability to find a way to win, the quarter finals saw Bedford display the full range of their skills as the secured a stunning 31-8 victory over the much fancied Canford. It was back to grinding out a hard fought win in the semi finals, coming from 5-0 down to Epsom College to win 10-5.
Both sides have shown the ability to grind out a result and also to carve an opposition apart, which makes this game a tantalizing prospect.
Whoever wins, there is no doubt that they will have had to work incredibly hard for it, and will rightly be considered one of the best teams in the country.
Champions Trophy Final – Friday 2nd December, 14.30, Allianz Park
Bedford v Tonbridge
Oakham 8-19 Tonbridge
Epsom College 5-10 Bedford
Bedford 31-8 Canford
Oakham 23-8 Monmouth
Epsom College 29-7 Blundell’s
Eton College 10-18 Tonbridge
Bristol GS 19-44 Blundell’s
Canford 48-20 Kingswood
Epsom College 29-22 St John’s Leatherhead
Eton College 55-12 Grammar School at Leeds
Monmouth – BYE
Oakham 15-3 Clifton College
St Paul’s 13-16 Bedford
Tonbridge 26-7 Millfield
Bristol GS 29-29 Sherborne
Bedford – Bye
Blundell’s – Bye
Canford 57-10 Marlborough College
Clifton College – Bye
Cranleigh 19-36 St John’s Leatherhead
Dulwich College 17-17 Eton College
Epsom College – Bye
Grammar School at Leeds 25-17 Uppingham
Kingswood 20-7 Bryanston
Millfield – Bye
Monmouth 21-13 Radley College
Oakham 38-7 Berkhamsted
St Paul’s 20-5 RGS Guildford
Tonbridge 28-22 Hampton