The 2018 Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s U18 Cup, taking place on Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd March, offers the chance of history this year.
Reigning champions Cranleigh are bidding to become just the second side in Rosslyn Park history to win three U18 Cup titles in a row. Having won the recent Edwin Doran Surrey Schools Senior 7s, a key marker ahead of Rosslyn Park, they are among the favourites for the title this year.
It will be incredibly tough, history shows that. Only one side, Llanelli Grammar School, have done so. They did so in 1961, 1962, and 1963, beating Rydal Penrhos, King’s Canterbury, and Taunton School in their three finals.
Millfield have come close, they reached five finals in a row from 2002 to 2006, but they lost the middle one to Ivybridge by just three points, having to settle instead for two back to back titles (they did, however avenge that 2004 loss by beating Ivybridge 41-7 in the following year’s final), which still ranks as one of the great Rosslyn Park 7s achievements.
It is not just history that makes it an almighty challenge, it is the sheer quality of teams and the toughness of the draw. Particularly this year. This year the draw has been narrowed, ten teams have been shed as the tournament goes from fourteen groups of five to twelve groups of five.
That means that the elimination round has gone, instead the winners of each group go straight to three quarter final pools of four teams each. The winners of each of those pools, plus the best runner up will head to the semi finals and the winners of those ultimately to the Cup final.
There is good news for more sides this year though, no elimination round means that the Plate competition will come from the Day 1 group runners up, and will then go on to mirror the Cup competition. That means that 24 teams will play on day 2 as opposed to sixteen in previous years. More games for more players, that can only be a good thing.
So who could challenge Cranleigh? Well, for starters, their Day 1 group, Group A, which contains AASE side Brooksby Melton College, Scottish heavyweights Dollar Academy and George Watson’s College, and St Columba’s College.
In every group lurks at least one side that could be considered genuine title challengers, and very often one or two more than that. Much will depend on the availability of England U18 and Wales U18 internationals for some schools, and rather worryingly Wales U18 host England U18 on Sunday 25th March, while England play Scotland on Sunday 18th. Once again the England schedule could potentially leave some players unable to play in the greatest school tournament of them all, with their mates, for the last time.
It is a crying shame, not just for those players, but for their school, the tournament as a whole, and most importantly their teammates. Perhaps players will be released though, how great it would be if they were.
Looking at some of the groups, the quality and concentration needed right from the off is going to be huge. Take Group I, which contains last year’s finalists, Brighton College, and last year’s Surrey 7s winners, Hampton. Both look good this year, both came oh so close to beating Cranleigh at Surrey this year, and only one of them is going to make the Cup quarters.
The Same is true wherever you go, perennial winners Wellington College must deal with AASE side Henley College in Group C. Canford, Clifton College, and 2017 Vase winners St John’s, are all together in Group B. One of them won’t even make the Plate!
If tough groups are the conversation though, look no further than Group F. It contains schools rugby giants in 2013 champions Sedbergh and 2017 AASE champions, Hartpury College. Along with them are two of Hartpury’s AASE colleagues Truro College and Beechen Cliff, Maidstone Grammar will be feeling seriously hard done by.
It goes on though, Haileybury, Harrow, and Woodhouse Grove in group G, Bishop Burton, Llandrillo, Denstone, and Whitgift in Group D, Warwick, Exeter College, John Fisher, and St Paul’s Catholic College in Group K. It is relentless.
Group J looks simply treacherous Welsh giants and 2012 champions Coleg Sir Gar are there, so too 2017 Champions Trophy winners, Dulwich College. Joining them are two AASE sides, Moulton College and Oaklands College, and just to round things off one of the strongest sides in school rugby over the past three or four years, Kirkham Grammar School.
Millfield lurk in Group L with plenty of high profile company, Barnard Castle, Llandovery College, Neath Port Talbot and Worcester 6th form College,while Bedford, Caterham, Cymoedd, Merchiston Castle, and St Joseph’s College make up a fierce Group E. Ivybridge might just fancy Group H, but try telling that to Sherborne, Cardiff & Vale, Coventry College, or Samuel Whitbread.
Even predicting who might make the quarter finals is a minefield, let alone who might actually go on to win the whole thing. The list of potential tournament winners is huge, in what is surely going to be one of the most competitive Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s U18 Cups in many a year.
Just for a bit of fun though, here are our quarter final Pool predictions – they will no doubt change eight times before the tournament, but hopefully they can get the debate going, we would love to hear yours! You can see the full U18 Cup
group stage draw below.
Predicted U18 Cup Quarter Final Groups
Group 1 – Cranleigh, Canford, Wellington College, Whitgift
Group 2 – Bedford, Sedbergh, Harrow, Ivybridge
Group 3 – Brighton College, Kirkham Grammar, Exeter College, Millfield
Could Cranleigh go on and win a remarkable three in a row? They are certainly among the contenders, but whoever wins it, they are going to have had to do it the hard way in this brilliant but brutally challenging competition.
U18 Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s Cup Draw:
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Brooksby Melton College||Canford||Birkenhead||Bishop Burton College|
|Cranleigh||Clifton College||KES Birmingham||Coleg Llandrillo, Cymru|
|Dollar Academy||Reading Blue Coat School||Henley College||Denstone College|
|George Watson’s College||St John’s Leatherhead||Wellington College||Newcastle-under-Lyme|
|St Columba’s College||Utah Cannibals||Whitchurch High School||Whitgift|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|Bedford||Beechen Cliff||Haileybury||Cardiff & Vale College|
|Caterham||Hartpury College||Harrow||The Coventry College|
|Coleg y Cymoedd||Maidstone Grammar||Newport HS||Ivybridge|
|Merchiston Castle||Sedbergh||Rydal Penrhos||Samuel Whitbread Academy|
|St Joseph’s College||Truro College||Woodhouse Grove School||Sherborne|
|Group I||Group J||Group K||Group L|
|Brighton College||Coleg Sir Gar||Coleg Gwent, Crosskeys College||Llandovery College|
|Hampton||Dulwich College||St Paul’s Catholic College||Millfield|
|St Benedict’s||Kirkham Grammar||John Fisher||Neath Port Talbot|
|Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf||Moulton College||Exeter College||Worcester 6th form College|
|Ysgol Gymraeg Ystalyfera||Oaklands College||Warwick||Barnard Castle|
Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s Previews