The 2017 Champions Trophy officially begins this week, although a couple of games went ahead last week.
RGS Guildford hosted Caterham and Stowe were the hosts for St Albans in the opening games of the round. Both games were similar, with strong first halves for the host. RGS Guildford eventually went on to complete a brilliant 38-0 win over Caterham, which for can read about here – RGS first through in the Champions Trophy, while Stowe were 47-17 victors against St Albans in an interesting game. Stowe scored thirty-five unanswered points in the first half, but St Albans showed great resilience to bounce back and ‘win’ the second half.
Their victories send them through to the second round, where they join the six teams with byes straight into the second row. The teams with byes are among the very strongest in the country. The only three teams to have won the Champions Trophy, Millfield (2014), Bedford (2015), and Tonbridge (2016), all receive byes, as do 2015 finalists Epsom College, the prestigious Eton College, and schools rugby superstars, Wellington College.
It is Wellington’s first season in the Champions Trophy, indeed it is their first foray into knockout fifteen-a-side school rugby since they tried to defend their 2008 Schools Cup title back in the 2008/2009 season.
That leaves us with eight exciting fixtures this week, and it looks like there will be four on Tuesday and three on Wednesday, and one on Thursday.
Bromsgrove v Monmouth (Tuesday)
Another huge coup for the Champions Trophy as Bromsgrove move across from the Schools Cup. Having won it in 2015 and 2016, they bring even more prestige to the tournament and there will be high hopes of them going far. Monmouth will be a tough opponent though, their form over the last couple of years has been strong, however with Bromsgrove’s strong that to the season and their Cup pedigree, they likely start as favourites.
Bryanston v Bristol Grammar School (Thursday)
Another fascinating tie. Bryanston have been below their best for a couple of years but have started this season with some decent performances, even if the results have not all gone their way – although a tough defeat on Saturday will have stung. A good Champions Trophy run would be a huge extra boost for them. Standing in their way though are a Bristol Grammar School side with a cracking record over the last couple of years, and last year they boasted a couple of England internationals. They will fancy their chances of a good run, but like Bryanston are coming off the back of a tough loss.
Dulwich College v St Paul’s (Wednesday)
Having moved across from the Schools Cup to the Champions Trophy in 2015, after winning three Schools Cups in a row and reaching the final of the next, Dulwich are yet to experience success in the Champions Trophy. After a strong start to this season though, they might fancy their chances this year. St Paul’s will be a massive threat though, last year they came very close to knocking Bedford, the reigning champions and eventual finalists, out, and they have the ability to go further again this year.
Grammar School at Leeds v Oakham (Tuesday)
The 2014 finalists against the 2016 semi finalists. Grammar School at Leeds haven’t hit the heights of the 2014 crop in the last two seasons but they have had a decent start to the season, including a huge win on Saturday, and will be craving another strong run. Oakham are one of the toughest out there, although they will be hurting after a home loss to their local rivals, Stamford, on Saturday. You suspect that that will spur them on though, and could set us up for one of those classic Champions Trohpy clashes that almost seem to have become the norm.
Marlborough College v Kingswood
Marlborough College are this year under the tutelage of Terry Gilmour, the man who took Bishop Wordsworth’s to the U18 Schools Cup final last year, so you would expect his experience from that to be a benefit to them. Kingswood look good though this year, they have a couple of big wins under their belt and will be full of confidence. Marlborough may have two losses from two, but they were tight games against strong opposition, so do not read too much into those results.
Radley College v Berkhamsted (Tuesday)
In form Berkhamsted make the trip to Radley College for this opening round game, Berkhamsted were unlucky to get pitted against Oakham so early last year or they may have gone far. They will be keen for a good run this year. So too Radley College, who this year are under a new coaching regime, led by former Gloucester prop, Nick Wood. At their impressive home ground, they will want to make their mark on the national stage and we should be in for an exciting game.
Sherborne v Blundell’s (TBA – most likely Wednesday)
Both of these sides have provided memorable Champions Trophy performances over the last few years. Until an injury crisis and defeat to eventual champions Bedford in 2015, Sherborne were arguably the form team in the tournament, and in the same year Blundell’s went all the way to the semi finals, just losing out in a thriller against Epsom College. That all points towards a brilliant game next week between two sides that have really epitomised what this tournament is all about.
St John’s Leatherhead v King’s Canterbury (Tuesday)
St John’s were one of the form sides in last year’s tournament, eventually being knocked out by Epsom College in an enthralling game at the quarter final stage. They will be desperate to go even further this year, having promised a lot for a couple of years now. King’s Canterbury will be no pushovers though, their season has started with a win and a loss and they will have a decent amount of confidence heading into this one.
We should get eight excellent games of rugby this week, but more than anything we should get the sort of games that get the heart racing, for that is what the Champions Trophy has become famous for. Leads changing back and forth, late and important tries, and big upsets. It has been a huge success from the day it began back in 2014, and it now arguably the most prestigious fifteen-a-side competition, perhaps only with the St Joseph’s Festival for company in terms of quality.
While the Schools Cup may be bigger in terms of size, the quality of teams in the Champions Trophy is on another level, and it is perhaps only the draw of Twickenham Stadium over Allianz Park that is keeping it ahead in terms of nostalgia.
Either way, we are fortunate to be in era with such high level and exciting schools rugby in so many different formats!
Champions Trophy Round 1 Info:
RGS Guildford 38-0 Caterham
Stowe 47-17 St Albans
Bromsgrove v Monmouth (Tuesday 26th Sept, 2.30pm)
Bryanston v Bristol Grammar School (Thursday 28th Sept, 2.45pm)
Dulwich College v St Paul’s (Wednesday 27th Sept, 2.45pm)
Grammar School at Leeds v Oakham (Tuesday 26th Sept, 2.30pm)
Marlborough College v Kingswood (Wednesday 27th Sept, 2.30pm)
Radley College v Berkhamsted (Tuesday 26th Sept, 2.30pm)
Sherborne v Blundell’s (TBA)
St John’s Leatherhead v King’s Canterbury (Tuesday 26th Sept, 3pm)
Bedford, Epsom College, Eton College, Millfield, Tonbridge, Wellington College.
Round 2 – w/c 9th October
Quarter Finals – w/c 6th November
Semi Finals – w/c 20th November
Final – Wednesday 6th December