For a handful of schools the rugby season returns this weekend, marking the start of the second half of the season.
Of course for much of the ‘rugby public’, and even many that are not necessarily that drawn to rugby, the weekend will be all about the Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa.
So it is there that we begin this week’s school rugby preview, with an anecdote from this writer and praise for something that a number of schools have done ahead of this weekend.
I missed the 1995 and 1999 finals because I was playing sport, and I missed extra time in 2003 because of it too. I can’t remember what I was doing for 1995 and 1999, I was too young, but I know it was sport, presumably rugby, at school. I missed all of both; all I caught was Joel Stransky’s drop goal on the radio as my parents drove me down the school drive.
In 2003 the memory is clear, I watched the final, but when extra time struck I had to leave. The coach for an away game was leaving, hell, I can even remember the opposition, so frustrated were we all, RGS High Wycombe away. We did manage to end up seeing Jonny Wilkinson’s epic finish, but only by virtue of an old couple taking pity on a group of us and letting us peer through the window as we waited for the coach – the driver, sensibly, had decided he was not missing it and who cares if he was late. Quite right. Honestly I remember nothing of any of the games, all I remember from 24, 20, and 16 years ago was that I missed the game.
Why bring this up? To implore schools up and down the country to postpone or cancel games if they clash – or to move them to a later kick off time or get on the phones and arrange more local opponents – especially for the years below 6th form, there will always be more games, World Cup finals come once every four years. If keeping people in the game is one of the aims in school rugby, missing the game probably does not aid that aim.
A number have already taken such measures, and here at Fifteen Rugby we get the arguments for why not. From a rugby perspective it is more important to play than to watch etc etc, and from a values point of view it is important to learn about sacrifice and commitment. Let’s make an exception though, many have already done so, and indeed it looks as though only a handful will clash – congratulations to all that have.
Now to the main business of the actual school rugby!
There are some absolutely cracking games on Saturday to get the second half of term underway, not least at a school that can boast two of England’s starting fifteen for the World Cup final, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola, Harrow. The north west London side have been impressive this year and hosts a Tonbridge side that have also had some very strong showings this season to date. It should be a brilliant game of rugby and a real highlight with which to restart the season.
So too should a game in Wiltshere as Marlborough College search for a first victory since September, they will be hosting a really tough side though in the form of Canford. Canford have had a wonderful season to date, their only defeat coming in somewhat of a training game against Millfield prior to the official start of the season, they will be hoping for more of the same on Saturday.
Staying in the south west, Downside have a tricky challenge on Saturday as they welcome Champions Trophy quarter finalists, Blundell’s. Blundell’s will fancy themselves as favourites, however Downside are a dangerous side an have plenty of potential to spring an upset.
Uppingham were particularly impressive prior to half term, only Stamford beat them and they have also reached the Champions Trophy quarter finals. On Saturday though they travel to a side that were always deemed their biggest rivals, Oundle. Oundle might have had a tough old first half of term, but they will be eager to bounce back, especially in a derby match, and will have had the inspiration of watching old boy Tom Curry in action in the World Cup final earlier in the day.
One side that really should be inspired watching the Rugby World Cup are St Edward’s Oxford, who have hosted England for a number of training camps over the last few years. They had a tough first half of the season, but host a side in St Benedict’s that also had a tough first half of term, so expect a big contest with both sides looking to make a big start to this second half of the year.
Elsewhere there are plenty of massive games, not least in Yorkshire were two giants of the school game meet, Ampleforth College and Barnard Castle. Barnard Castle were utterly sensational prior to half term, truly one of the best around, but Ampleforth picked up some strong form through that opening six weeks too and should hopefully put on a good game.
Campion were also outstanding prior to half term and welcome a side against whom they should have a fantastic game on Saturday, Judd. These two are so committed when they play, which should make for a cracking contest.
One of the biggest games will be the all-Oratory clash as The Oratory, Reading, take on London Oratory on Saturday. The two have both had reasonably balanced seasons prior to the break, so expect a good contest on Saturday and an excitable atmosphere.
The same ought to be true of Norwich v The Leys, two sides that had some excellent performances and results prior to half term – expect a fun game here. The Leys’ Cambridge rivals, The Perse, have a tricky task on Saturday as they travel to South West London to take on a very strong St Paul’s side, who enjoyed a superb first half of term and ought to be really pushing for an equally strong second half.
In Kent, meanwhile Sevenoaks are hosting Duke of York’s Royal Military School, Sevenoaks who had some notable performances prior to the break. Meanwhile in Norfolk Wisbech Grammar host Wymondham College, which should be another well contested game.
Scotland meanwhile has a healthy fixture list, a different school calendar and perhaps fewer distractions on Saturday helping out. Merchiston Castle hosted an exciting Festival prior to half term and their first game after that is to host Strathallan. Elsewhere Dollar Academy host George Heriot’s in what should be a big game, while Loretto welcome Bell Baxter, Glasgow Academy host Kelvinside Academy, and Glenalmond College travel to St Aloysius’ College.
It was George Watson’s College that won that inaugural Festival at Merchiston Castle a couple of weeks ago. They are back in action on Friday evening with a game against Edinburgh Academy, which ought to be a fantastic evening of rugby.
Meanwhile at Blackheath RFC, Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar and St Olave’s Grammar get their seasons back underway with a great looking fixture under the lights, a superb occasion that will also see the U13s act as the curtain raisers before the 2nd XV then take over, the 1st XV fixture providing the finale to the evening.
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Schools Rugby Weekend Preview – Saturday 2nd November (predictions in bold):
Ampleforth College v Barnard Castle
Campion v Judd
Dollar Academy v George Heriot’s
Downside v Blundell’s
Glasgow Academy v Kelvinside Academy
Harrow v Tonbridge
Loretto v Bell Baxter
Marlborough College v Canford
Merchiston Castle v Strathallan
Norwich v The Leys
The Oratory v London Oratory
Oundle v Uppingham
Sevenoaks v Duke of York’s RMS
St Aloysius’ College v Glenalmond College
St Edward’s, Oxford v St Benedict’s
St Paul’s v The Perse
Wisbech GS v Wymondham College
Chislehurst & Sidcup GS v St Olave’s GS
George Watson’s College v Edinburgh Academy