The regional stage of the 2017/18 U18 Schools Cup is almost at an end, with just one round left until the competition goes national.
There are just sixteen teams left in the draw, after Canford, Stonyhurst College, Whitgift, and Dean Close booked their places in the last 16 this week. This sixteen teams play out what are effectively the regional finals.
The winners of those eight regions are then put in a hat for the quarter final draw, making it a truly national competition at the point, with a team from the very northernmost point of the north region able to be drawn against a side from the very most south westerly point of the south west region.
Those that are left all have a shot of going far, and most have plenty of history in this competition, not least the likes of QEGS Wakefield, RGS Newcastle, Warwick, and Whitgift.
North A – King’s Macclesfield v Stonyhurst College, Saturday 25th November, 14.15
North B – QEGS Wakefield v RGS Newcastle, Saturday 2nd December, 14.00
The two north sections feature four top teams, and some of the most prestigious in Schools Cup history. North A sees the 2009 U15 Vase finalists, King’s Macclesfield, take on Stonyhurst College. Both have had to get through a fair few scraps to get to this point, and can expect another in the hunt for that quarter final spot.
North B is a clash of Schools Cup legends, QEGS Wakefield v RGS Newcastle. QEGS are four time runners up in the U18 Cup, including last year’s final against Warwick, while RGS Newcastle are twice losing finalists, in 2010 and 1994. These two have beaten some huge names, including St Peter’s York and Barnard Castle in the last round in what is one of the toughest sections of the draw. Arguably the top game of the last 16.
Midlands A – Northampton School for Boys v Stamford, Wednesday, 15.45
Midlands B – Warwick v Solihull, Wednesday, 14.30
Another two tough sections. Stamford are having a huge season and will fancy their chances of emerging as the quarter final candidates from Midlands A. However Northampton School for Boys are having a storming season too, they won the Vase last year and are kicking on this year and are performing well in the Daily Mail Trophy. This could be a cracker.
In Midlands B reside the Champions, Warwick. So far this Cup run has not been too much of a strain for Warwick but against Solihull it is about to get tougher. Certainly they are Warwick’s toughest opponents so far, though the champions will hold the upper hand and are at home. With the chance of a quarter final place up for grabs though, Solihull will make life very tough.
London & South East
London & South East A – Hampton v Whitgift, Wednesday, 14.15
London & South East B – John Fisher v Judd, Wednesday, 14.15
The A section in London & South East has been packed with top teams, it has probably been the hardest alongside North B. Hampton, semi finalists a few years ago, have made swift progress though and will host 2010 and 2011 champions Whitgift, who have had to work hard, including a win over last year’s semi finalists, Felsted. It sets up for a massive last 16 clash between two top sides.
London & South East B looks like a clash between an old hand, John Fisher, and a newcomer at the very top end, Judd. The reality is though that Judd probably arrive as favourites having reached last year’s quarter finals and performing brilliantly well this year, while John Fisher have struggled. Fisher love a Cup competition though, so this could be a superb tie.
South West A – Bishop Wordsworth’s v Dean Close, Wednesday 29th November, KO TBA
South West B – Ivybridge Community College v Canford, Thursday, 13.30
The south west sections are really interesting, thin on numbers to begin with, they now look as full of quality as any section out there. Take South West A, the regional final is Bishop Wordsworth’s v Dean Close, last year’s finalists against one of the form teams in the country, who put fifty past RGS High Wycombe in the previous round. It should be a huge encounter.
South West B looks just as compelling. At home you have the former AASE College, Ivybridge Community College, who have been playing stunning rugby and are seeing the rewards of a brilliant U15 group of a few years ago at U18 level now. They host Canford, another side in outstanding form, who could easily go very far in this competition.
Overall then, the last 16 looks to be full of quality, and whoever wins each section, we are going to be left with eight top quarter finalists. Once we reach that stage, it really is anyone’s to take. So many other factors, such as travel and match practice, start to come into it, making the competition ever more compelling.
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U18 Schools Cup Last 16 Fixtures (predictions in bold):
King’s Macclesfield v Stonyhurst College (North A)
QEGS Wakefield v RGS Newcastle (North B)
Northampton School for Boys v Stamford (Midlands A)
Warwick v Solihull (Midlands B)
Hampton v Whitgift (London & South East A)
John Fisher v Judd (London & South East B)
Bishop Wordsworth’s v Dean Close (South West A)
Ivybridge Community College v Canford (South West B)