This week sees the NatWest competitions draw into view again as it is U18 semi finals week.
Plate semi finals are taking place in midweek, with Cup and Vase semi finals on Saturday, while early next week will see the completion of the Bowl semi finals.
The meat of the semi final week is Saturday at Allianz Park, where both U18 Vase semis and the two Cup semis will take place.
The U18 Cup semi finals look like being two outstanding games of rugby with some compelling story lines.
Bishop Wordsworth’s, finalists in the first ever U18 Cup with a certain World Cup winning Richard Hill in their side, face Bromsgrove, the back to back Cup holders.
Bromsgrove will be the favourites, their pedigree in this competition demands that and the sheer depth of quality at their disposal demonstrates it, they have had a huge number of players in Worcester Warriors’ colours in the U18 Academy League. However bishop Wordsworth’s have some gems of their own, including captain Cadan Murley, who won the U18 Academy League with Harlequins.
With rumours that England international could be missing, an extra layer of spice may be added to this, but it should not matter – this is a huge one either way. Bromsgrove had a slow start to the season but have been flying since, while Bishop Wordsworth’s have been very impressive all year yet have managed to maintain themselves under the radar fairly well.
Whichever side wins, a bit of history beckons as Bromsgrove would have the chance to become just the third side to do three straight wins, and would have the chance to back up the same feat that Dulwich College managed from 2012 to 2014. Dulwich, incidentally, were the side that Bromsgrove beat for their first title. For Bishop Wordsworth’s it would be a first ever title, and a chance to finally get over the hurdle after missing out all those years ago.
The second semi final sees Felsted and Warwick meet, and once again it is compelling. Felsted have seemingly defied the odds to reach these semi finals, coming through a tough London and South East section that required a victory over Whitgift. Whitgift are, let’s remember, a side that beat Wellington College early in the season. Felsted then followed that up with a long away trip to Manchester Grammar in the quarter finals, a side who had again impressed, and came away with a superb victory.
Warwick though are a tough tree to fell in this competition. They won it in 2008, and reached the final in 2013, though you suspect they would prefer if people would forget about that particular day.
What is most impressive about Warwick in this competition though is their U15 record. They won the competition in 2013 and 2014 against QEGS Wakefield and lost to the same side in the U15 final in 2015. This is the year that those U15 sides bear fruit at U18 level. Not only are they good, they have all of that high pressure big game experience in the bag. And, by the way, their U15s are in the semi finals once again this year.
Felsted have been giant killing all season though, and have had former stars like England U20 fly half Max Malins in to impart their wisdom ahead of this game. Neither side is going to let the opposition play, it will be a full throttle game and a fantastic semi finals. Much like Bishop Wordsworth’s v Bromsgrove, whichever side wins the story will be a compelling one.
The U18 Plate semi finals began on Tuesday with Reigate Grammar School v Crossley Heath. Both sides have impressed, an were probably unfortunate in the draw they received to be knocked out early in the Cup, but this is precisely why this competition was created.
It turned out to be a brilliant tie, Reigate pulled away to a 21-0 lead but Crossley Heath came charging back into contention. As the game entered the closing stages Reigate led 31-14, and a late try made the game safe at 38-14, cueing the celebrations as they secured their place at Sixways Stadium on Tuesday 28th March for the first ever U18 NatWest Plate final.
They will face Solihull, who dug deep for a highly impressive 10-8 away win at Lymm High School on Wednesday afternoon, beating the former U15 Vase champions, and U18 Cup knockout regulars to secure their own place at Sixways for the inaugural final.
U18 NatWest Plate Final: Reigate Grammar School v Solihull
As usual, the U18 Vase semi finals are also being played at Allianz Park on the same day as the Cup semi finals, Saturday 4th March.
There are four exciting teams in the semis, The Perse, Trent College, Silcoates, and Royal Latin.
Trent College won the competition in 2014, a tense 17-16 win over Exeter College, and they will be keen to visit Twickenham again this year. It will be far from easy though as they face a Perse side who have some impressive performances behind them this year, and who enjoyed decent Cup runs in the years prior to this, so expect a great contest between two sides knocking on the door of the tier above.
The second semi final sees Silcoates face Royal Latin. Silcoates are unbeaten in 24 games and having a stunning year, but Saturday will be a massive test for them as they face a Royal Latin School that is used to success in the Vase having won it at U15 level in 2013, against Cup semi finalists, Felsted.
Overall it looks like there ought to be two very good semi finals in the Vase, with four strong teams, something that has not always been the case in the Vase in the past, and speaks well for the new competition structure.
The Bowl semi finals do not take place until next week, with St Olave’s Grammar v Bolton on Tuesday 7th March and Woodbridge v Old Swinford Hospital on Wednesday 8th March.
Both should be good games, St Olave’s have been getting used to big games with plenty of Friday night matches under their belts this season, while Bolton are always a strong sporting school and will want to demonstrate that on Tuesday.
The second semi final is intriguing, pitting and impressive Woodbridge side up against an Old Swinford Hospital side that have struggled in recent years following the high of a NatWest Cup final in 2012 and players such as Max Stelling, Huw Taylor, and Sam Smith. Will the knowledge in the school of that past run inspire them, or hinder them?
The U15 semi finals all take place the following week, with the Cup and Vase on Saturday 18th March at Allianz Park, and most other games scheduled for Wednesday 15th, St Paul’s v St Albans in the Plate will take palce a week on Thursday though. We will preview the U15s next week.
NatWest Semi Finals:
Bishop Wordsworth’s v Bromsgrove – Saturday 4th March
Felsted v Warwick – Saturday 4th March
Reigate GS 38-14 Crossley Heath – Tuesday 28th February
Lymm HS 8-10 Solihull – Wednesday 1st March
The Perse v Trent College – Saturday 4th March
Silcoates v Royal Latin – Saturday 4th March
St Olave’s GS v Bolton – Tuesday 7th March
Woodbridge v Old Swinford Hospital – Wednesday 8th March
Wellington College v Whitgift – Saturday 18th March
Warwick v Ivybridge Community College – Saturday 18th March
St Paul’s v St Albans – Thursday 9th March
Sir Thomas Rich’s v Seaford College – Wednesday 15th March
Dr Challoner’s GS v Welland Park Academy – Saturday 18th March
Thomas Hardye v Bridgewater HS – Saturday 18th March
Dorothy Stringer v Beth GS – Wednesday 15th March
King Priory v Pocklington – Wednesday 15th March
Tuesday 27th March – Sixways Stadium, Worcester
U18 Plate (Reigate Grammar School v Solihull), U18 Bowl, U15 Plate, U15 Bowl
Wednesday 28th March – Twickenham, London
U18 Cup, U18 Vase, U15 Cup, U15 Vase