It has been an awesome term of school rugby, and the final full weekend of it more than lived up to expectations. Teams everyone put everything into this last run out of the year, determined to leave some good lasting memories.
There was silverware up for grabs too, Clifton College, Cranleigh, Epsom College, and Wellington College were all in action and all in with a shout of securing the Daily Mail Trophy title.
Meanwhile the likes of Merchant Taylors’ and Kirkham Grammar were gunning for an unbeaten season, while for the vast majority the weekend was simply about finishing off in the best and most memorable fashion possible.
All four of the key games in the race for the Daily Mail Trophy title were part of our Focus On set of ten games. Cranleigh and Wellington College went in to Saturday as the top two and the main two contenders, while Epsom College also had a strong chance if they could seal a bonus point win and the other two failed to, Clifton College meanwhile needed the others all to falter.
All four got the win, Clifton College impressively won 17-0 away at Cheltenham College, a side with some excellent results this season. Epsom College meanwhile were at their local rivals St John’s Leatherhead, they secured the win, 26-8, but just missed out on the bonus point that would have had the top two really worrying.
Prior to the weekend though the side that always looked as though they could really have an impact on this title race was Tonbridge. They hosted Wellington College and it was a special occasion for the hosts, the 250th and last game in charge to coach Graeme Gales, whose time in charge began in the mid nineties and include that famous unbeaten stretch in the mid 2000s, the Rosslyn Park titles in 2010, 2011, and 2016, and the 2016 Champions Trophy.
His side have been in epic form of late and were inspired on Saturday as they built a lead against this Wellington College side that have already sealed the Champions Trophy and St Joseph’s Festival titles. Perhaps that title winning attitude just made the difference in the end though as the away side mounted an awesome comeback for a 28-22 victory, that crucially included a bonus points.
That meant that Cranleigh had to secure a bonus point win at home to Canford, it would leave them level on points with Wellington but sealing the title thanks to a 100% record and fewer games played to reach the same total. They did so in style, winning 48-20 to become just the fourth side to win the Daily Mail Trophy after Sedbergh, Woodhouse Grove, and Wellington College themselves.
It also sealed an unbeaten season for Cranleigh, and they were joined in that epic feat by two others in our Focus On list of games. On Friday evening Kirkham Grammar School held off a spirited Woodhouse Grove side to seal a 22-13 victory at Preston Grasshoppers, securing one of the great achivements in schoolboy rugby, the unbeaten season.
On Saturday Merchant Taylors’ joined them in that achievement with a 24-19 victory over St Albans. Andy Speller gave this account of the game and their season:
“Merchant Taylors’ started well but a few nerves were on show, handling errors and penalties going against them. St Albans sniffed an opportunity and twice broke through the Taylors’ defensive line that has been the hallmark of their success this year to lead 12-0. Taylors’ were determined not to go into half time pointless and reward came shortly before half time when flanker Tom Shostak crashed over following a series of drives from the forward, reducing the deficit to 12-5 at the break.
The home team started the second half with a bang. Captain Oliver Gilbert calling a training ground line out move that worked to perfection as number 8 Harvey Lidstone peeled around the back of the line out and stormed over the try line from the 22. St Albans’ excellent backs continued to challenge the Taylors’ line but the next score came from a Taylors’ rolling maul that was heading rapidly for the line before being brought down, the referee awarding a penalty try to send the home team in front.
Shortly afterwards more pressure from the Taylors’ forwards resulted in a try for prop Oscar Speller who powered over from short range. The conversion from Ben Fallowfield took the score to 24-12 with 15 minutes remaining. This talented St Albans team were determined not to lie down however and became only the second team this season to cross the Taylors’ line 3 times with a try under the posts with 5 minutes remaining. Taylors’ were not to be denied and held out for a superb 24-19 victory.
The victory sealed an unbeaten season for an exceptional group of young men. Much credit must go to Director of Rugby Adam Mills and his team, too, who have also delivered stunning success at U16 and U15 level as well this year. The future looks bright.”
Elsewhere there were a number of other fantastic games, Bromsgrove ended their term by sealing the series against Warwick 2-1 for the season thanks to a 35-12 victory at home. Back in the first game of the season Bromsgrove had won, but a couple of weeks ago Warwick had leveled things at one each thanks to a last minute kick in their Schools Cup tie. That Cup run meant Warwick had to rest a few on Saturday, but it was still a highly impressive display from Bromsgrove.
Berkhamsted finished off the term in real style, becoming just the second team this year to beat Haileybury, the mighty Sedbergh being the other. They did so with a very strong performance, too, winning 30-5 to end the season on a real high.
There was a big finish in a tight game from Dulwich College, too. They hosted a Hampton side that had been rampant in their meeting at the St Joseph’s Festival in October. Dulwich got their own back on Saturday though, securing a 14-7 victory to send them into Christmas on a hugely positive not.
RGS Newcastle also go into Christmas on a massively positive note, beating Barnard Castle 14-12 in a bit of a repeat of their tight victory over the same opponents in the Cup just a few short weeks ago.
7 key players were out, including captain Phil Brantingham, Toby Peach taking over the captaincy for the game. Barnard Castle scored first but Cameron Paul managed the rarely seen chargedown of the conversion. RGS then got on top but impeccable Barnard Castle defence saw them hold on for a 5-0 half time lead.
RGS started strongly in the second half and a thundering rolling maul allowed Peach to touch down, Arun Summerfield converting for the lead. Barnard Castle bounced right back though, their excellent openside scoring in the corner with their fly half landing a perfect touchline conversion for a 12-7 lead. They had the momentum now but the RGS defence held strong. Under pressure like that though, most teams crack, however just when it looked like Barnard Castle would score with a 2 man overlap, Jonnie Bell went for the interception and ran the length of the pitch to score under the sticks, the conversion giving the home side the 14-12 lead. It was a tense 16 minutes of play left to go, both sides having chances, but the home side held on for an emotional final victory of the term.
Around the Grounds
Elsewhere there were some epic games of rugby with which to round off this superb term. Chief among them was a thriller 35-34 victory for St Peter’s, York at Pocklington. A thrilling game of rugby that had it all.
Not far behind that in terms of entertainment and drama was Marlborough College’s 24-23 victory at home to Eton College. Even close though was an epic 24-24 draw between Lymm High School and Manchester Grammar.
There was a draw at Radley College, them and Oundle holding each other to seventeen apiece, meanwhile things were close on the south coast, too, Wimbledon College taking a 20-19 victory at Portsmouth Grammar School. Abingdon also finished off in a really tight game. They beat a Bedford side that has been resurgent in recent weeks, sealing a 19-17 victory at home.
A number of sides finished with a real flourish, not least Isleworth & Syon, they have had an epic term and ended it in style with another fantastic victory, 55-0 over Ibstock Place.
Schools Plate holders, and current semi finalists, Bloxham, were also in cracking form as they sealed a 50-5 victory over Welbeck. Meanwhile fellow Plate semi finalists Dean Close were also in epic form once more, beating an RGS High Wycombe side with some brilliant results this term by an impressive 33-5 margin.
Brighton College signed off for the term with a good victory, 39-5 at home to RGS Guildford, they have a couple of fixtures next term and are going to be a team to keep an eye on in the 7s season.
One side guaranteed to be a threat on the 7s field are, of course, Sedbergh. They bounced back from their sole defeat of the season on Wednesday, to Millfield, with an emphatic victory on Saturday against Welsh legends Llandovery College, finishing off the season with a 32-7 victory.
Other side in bold form at home on Saturday were Seaford College, who beat Caterham 42-0, Whitgift, who were sensational for a 62-0 victory over St Joseph’s College, and Oakham, who beat Stowe 51-0.
A number of sides were in flying form away from home, too. Not least of which was Denstone College, who secured a stunning 63-0 victory away at Nottingham High School, sealing off a stunning few weeks for Denstone. Ampleforth College meanwhile secured a 47-10 victory at Worksop College, while Norwich were on form too, 50-21 against Bishop’s Stortford College.
Felsted were in fine form at The Leys, sealing a 34-0 victory there, while Hurstpierpoint College had a really impressive victory to finish up the term on a very positive note, beating Eastbourne College 38-14 away from home. Sutton Valence were also in good away nick, beating King’s Canterbury 39-5 to end an impressive term.
St Paul’s have had some really outstanding performances at times this year and they finished it off with a good one on Saturday, beating London oratory 28-7. The same is true of Sir Thomas Rich’s, who hosted the Schools Cup semi finalists, Northampton School for Boys, on Saturday. It was a cracking contest, but the hosts came out on top after a strong display, winning 20-12.
King’s Worcester finished up in style, beating Trent College 59-5, while KES Stratford were also in strong form as they saw off Princethorpe College’s challenge, 45-0.
Staying in the Midlands, Solihull were on good form to finish off as they beat Monmouth 27-8. Meanwhile in the South West there were some cracking games, Kingswood earned a 22-14 victory over Schools Plate semi finalists Bishop Wordsworth’s, while in Somerset there was a massive derby game, Taunton School beating rivals King’s College 43-21 at home.
In addition to Kirkham Grammar’s victory over Woodhouse Grove on Friday evening, there were a handful of other games on Friday. Bradford Grammar sealed victory in what is actually their penultimate game of the season, winning a really good contest against Hymers College, 24-19. Claremont meanwhile beat Cobham International 34-20.
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Schools Rugby Weekend Fixtures – Saturday 7th December (predictions in bold):
Berkhamsted 30-5 Haileybury
Bromsgrove 35-12 Warwick
Cheltenham College 0-17 Clifton College
Cranleigh 48-20 Canford
Dulwich College 14-7 Hampton
Kirkham GS 22-13 Woodhouse Grove (Friday)
Merchant Taylors’ 24-19 St Albans
RGS Newcastle 14-12 Barnard Castle
St John’s, Leatherhead 8-26 Epsom College
Tonbridge 22-28 Wellington College
Abingdon 19-17 Bedford
Adams GS 12-28 Loughborough GS
Bablake 15-12 Old Swinford Hospital
Bishop’s Stortford College 21-50 Norwich
Bloxham 50-5 Welbeck
Blundell’s 45-10 Bryanston
Brighton College 39-5 RGS Guildford
Bristol Cathedral 37-10 Wells Cathedral
Campion 12-19 Aylesbury GS
Cheadle Hulme 7-5 St Ambrose College
Colston’s 17-0 Pate’s GS
Coopers’ Coborn 33-12 St Dunstan’s College
Dauntsey’s 29-0 Lord Wandsworth College
Dean Close 33-5 RGS High Wycombe
Dollar Academy 45-14 Fettes College
Eastbourne College 14-38 Hurstpierpoint College
Emanuel 29-45 St George’s College, Weybridge
Framlingham College 24-17 The Perse
Giggleswick 0-19 Durham
Glasgow Academy 46-14 St Columba’s
Glasgow HS 17-13 Edinburgh Academy
Glyn 19-14 Langley Park
Gordon’s 15-7 Royal Alexandra & Albert
Hereford Cathedral 17-10 Wycliffe College
Isleworth & Syon 55-0 Ibstock Place
KES Birmingham 7-26 King’s Gloucester
KES Southampton 17-24 The Oratory
KES Stratford 45-0 Princethorpe College
King’s Canterbury 5-39 Sutton Valence
King’s Macclesfield 14-26 Grammar School at Leeds
King’s Rochester 14-12 Colfe’s
King’s Worcester 59-5 Trent College
Kingswood 22-14 Bishop Wordsworth’s
Latymer Upper 27-7 St Columba’s College
The Leys 0-34 Felsted
Loretto 40-0 George Heriot’s
Lymm HS 24-24 Manchester GS
Maidstone GS 5-15 Judd
Marlborough College 24-23 Eton College
Mill Hill 5-10 UCS
Monkton Combe 22-0 Clayesmore
Morrison’s Academy 32-31 Lomond
Newcastle-Under-Lyme 15-29 King Henry VIII, Coventry
Nottingham HS 0-63 Denstone College
Oakham 51-0 Stowe
Oswestry 10-12 Rossall
Pocklington 34-35 St Peter’s, York
Portsmouth GS 19-20 Wimbledon College
Prior Park College 21-52 KES Bath
QEH 41-0 King’s Bruton
Queen’s College, Taunton 5-31 Exeter
Radley College 17-17 Oundle
Reading Blue Coat 7-13 Magdalen College
RGS Worcester 38-14 Shrewsbury
Royal Hospital School 20-3 Ipswich
Ryde 15-7 Milton Abbey
Seaford College 42-0 Caterham
Sedbergh 32-7 Llandovery College
Shiplake College 19-20 Churcher’s College
Sir Joseph Williamson’s 7-38 Skinners’
Sir Thomas Rich’s 20-12 Northampton School for Boys
Solihull 27-8 Monmouth
St Edward’s, Cheltenham 37-26 Clifton HS
St George’s, Harpenden 29-22 Bedford Modern
St Paul’s 28-7 London Oratory
Stockport GS 40-33 Harrodian
Strathallan 52-12 Robert Gordon’s College
Taunton 43-21 King’s College, Taunton
Tiffin 12-29 St Benedict’s
Trinity 24-19 KCS Wimbledon
Whitgift 62-0 St Joseph’s College
Windsor Boys 20-14 Halliford
Worksop College 10-47 Ampleforth College
Wymondham College 5-41 Langley
Bradford GS 24-19 Hymers College
Cobham International 20-34 Claremont
Still to Come:
Brentwood v Dartford GS 2nd XV
Chislehurst & Sidcup GS v Gravesend GS
Earlston HS v George Heriot’s
Kelvinside Academy v Stewart’s Melville
King’s Priory v Yarm
New Hall v RGS Colchester
QES Barnet v Watford GS
Reed’s v Reigate GS
St David’s College v AKS Lytham