The 31st Annual St Joseph’s Festival kicks off at 9am on Saturday, finishing up on Sunday evening.
Unquestionably it is one of the great highlights of the school calendar, a great festival of exciting and attacking rugby. Indeed the format of the Festival really does promote attacking rugby, with games just fifteen minutes per half, time is of the essence.
A try therefore has immense value relative to a full match, where in an ordinary game a side might chip away at a 7-0 deficit through penalties because there is always time in hand, at St Joseph’s that policy pretty much goes out of the window. Running rugby high in intensity, with plenty of offloading too, is the order of the day, and it makes for a fantastic weekend of top level schools rugby.
This year’s competition is going to have to go some to top last year’s extraordinary 30-year anniversary tournament, which ended in the most dramatic fashion as Cranleigh and Brighton College drew 10-10 in the final.
Not only were they level on points, but they were level on tries too, which meant that the winner would be the side that had scored first. That meant that Cranleigh School were the side to lift the De La Salle Trophy, giving them the honour of being both the reigning Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s champions and the St Joseph’s Festival champions.
However that is a badge of honour that will end on Sunday evening as Cranleigh will not be there to defend their title. Along with Gordon’s School they have chosen not to attend this year. They have high quality replacements though Hurstpierpoint College and the returning Portsmouth Grammar School, both of whom will offer plenty.
Indeed they add to what is looking like it might be one of the most open tournaments in years, a tournament that could potentially rival the excitement of last year.
The tournament is full of teams that have beaten each other already this tournament, making any predictions highly challenging. Newcomers Hurstpierpoint, for instance, have beaten Brighton College, who are among the favourites after reaching last year’s final, and have beaten RGS High Wycombe, another side that could be considered among the favourites, for they always show up well at the Festival.
There are also the slightly more unknown quantities of Merchiston Castle and Whitchurch High School, from Scotland and Wales respectively. Merchiston are always strong and are one of the very best in Scotland, but evaluating their relative strength to the others in the tournament often has to wait until it has begun.
St Joseph’s themselves can always be an unpredictable package. This is the real focus of their season and they build towards it, whether they have been winning or losing in the build up, they are always pumped up and firing during the Festival in front of a hugely vocal and passionate support, often numbering into the thousands.
Sometimes that comes into it for the other fifteen sides too, who will respond best to that kind of pressure, and with live streams on both pitches now, the knowledge that thousands more are watching at home.
Sides like Millfield and Dulwich College almost always go well here and have a stack of titles between them. Dulwich might well consider themselves among the very top group of favourites this year, particularly with their exciting running game. Millfield might not be having their greatest ever season, though the bar is unbelievably high, but with their brand of rugby they will surely be, as usual, one of the sides to watch across the two days and could well go all the way.
They are in a ferociously difficult group, alongside Hurstpierpoint, 2015 champions Hampton, and QEGS Wakefield, who could be one of the dark horses. They are certainly playing some outstanding rugby and have progressed well in the Schools Cup at both age groups in recent years, keep an eye on them.
Dulwich’s group looks tricky too, with the unpredictable nature of Whitchurch, the ever strong presence of RGS High Wycombe, and an RGS High Wycombe side that has some strong results to their name this year.
The hosts have a group that looks like it could be tight, Denstone College, St Peter’s Gloucester, and Portsmouth Grammar could all take points from each other in Group D.
The tournament will open in Group A at 9.00 on Saturday, with Brighton College kicking the tournament off on Pitch 1 against Eltham College. Former champions John Fisher will take on Merchiston Castle on Pitch 2, showing just how competitive this group is too.
Following the Groups on Day 1, the top two teams in each Group will progress to the two Cup groups, while the bottom two in each will move to the two Plate groups. The winners of the two Cup groups will meet in the Cup final on Saturday evening, with the winners of the Plate groups meeting in the Plate final.
Whoever reaches those finals, one thing is for sure, they are going to have had to do it the hard way in what is always an exciting and ferociously challenging couple of days of rugby.
|2017 St Joseph’s Festival – Day 1 Groups|
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Brighton College||RGS High Wycombe||Millfield||St Joseph’s College|
|Merchiston Castle School||Dulwich College||Hampton||Denstone College|
|John Fisher||RGS Newcastle||QEGS Wakefield||St Peter’s, Gloucester|
|Eltham College||Whitchurch High School||Hurstpierpoint College||Portsmouth Grammar|
|St Joseph’s Festival – Day 1 Fixtures|
|Pitch 1||Time||Pitch 2|
|Brighton College v Eltham College||09.00||John Fisher v Merchiston Castle|
|RGS High Wycombe v RGS Newcastle||09.40||Dulwich College v Whitchurch High School|
|Hurstpierpoint College v Millfield||10.20||Hampton v QEGS Wakefield|
|St Joseph’s College v Portsmouth Grammar School||11.00||Denstone College v St Peter’s, Gloucester|
|Brighton College v John Fisher||11.40||Eltham College v Merchiston Castle|
|RGS High Wycombe v Whitchurch High School||12.20||Dulwich College v RGS Newcastle|
|Millfield v QEGS Wakefield||13.00||Hampton v Hurstpierpoint College|
|St Joseph’s College v St Peter’s, Gloucester||13.40||Denstone College v Portsmouth Grammar School|
|Brighton College v Merchiston Castle||14.20||Eltham College v John Fisher|
|Dulwich College v RGS High Wycombe||15.00||RGS Newcastle v Whitchurch High School|
|Hampton v Millfield||15.40||Hurstpierpoint College v QEGS Wakefield|
|St Joseph’s College v Denstone College||16.20||St Peter’s Gloucester v Portsmouth Grammar School|
|2017 St Joseph’s Festival – Day 2 Groups|
|Group A (Cup)||Group B (Cup)||Group X (Plate)||Group Y (Plate)|
|Winner Group A||Winner Group C||3rd Place Group A||3rd Place Group C|
|Winner Group B||Winner Group D||3rd Place Group B||3rd Place Group D|
|Runner Up Grp C||Runner Up Grp A||4th Place Group C||4th Place Group A|
|Runner Up Grp D||Runner Up Grp B||4th Place Group D||4th Place Group B|