Barnard Castle sealed the Bowring Trophy at the North of England School 7s in a dominant display that saw them beat some of the most acclaimed 7s sides in the country en route to victory.
The tournament was running for the first time since 2017, when Kirkham Grammar School claimed the title and England U20 captain Connor Doherty was named Player of the Tournament, rainfall and snow had hindered it in those years but that weather steered clear, just about, this year, allowing the tournament to go ahead.
Just as well, the North of England School 7s is one of the key 7s tournaments of the year. If the Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s is beacon of school 7s, the North of England School 7s is the key preparation tournament in the North as the Edwin Doran Surrey Schools Senior 7s is in the South.
For Barnard Castle, then, this is a huge statement ahead of the nationals. They have a brutal group at Rosslyn Park, with recent champions Cranleigh and Wellington College for company, but this display will have given those to sides an awful lot to take notice of. All three are legitimate contenders. As are both Kirkham and Sedbergh, who are pitted together at Rosslyn Park, which is going to have some seriously fierce competition this year.
There were eight groups at the North of England School 7s, and the Group Winners progressed to the Bowing Trophy quarter finals, the runners up heading to the Boodle & Dunthorne Salver.
Barnard Castle topped Group B ahead of Shrewsbury, pitting them against Wirral Grammar, who had beaten a promising Isle of Man select XV to top spot in Group F. Kirkham Grammar School had meanwhile topped Group A and would face Group D winners King’s Worcester, while Sedbergh headed up Group G to set up a quarter final against Group C winners and former champions, Woodhouse Grove. RGS Newcastle, meanwhile, had topped Group E to set up a quarter final against Austin Friars, who progressed from Group H.
Kirkham Grammar and RGS Newcastle were both in flying form in their quarter finals, winning 45-0 and 31-0 respectively. Sedbergh had a tougher test though, although a 19-5 defeat of Woodhouse Grove was still a very strong performance, while Barnard Castle showed the strength that would go on to take them all the way to help them beat Birkenhead 7s champions Wirral Grammar 38-7.
That set up a pair of semi finals between four really giants of school rugby, Barnard Castle taking on the North of England Schools 7s most successful side ever, Sedbergh, while RGS Newcastle met the most recent champions, Kirkham Grammar.
Kirkham looked strong for a 26-14 defeat of RGS Newcastle, but without doubt the result of the day came in the other semi final, where Barnard Castle put in an astonishing display to beat Sedbergh 24-7. Perhaps we should not all have been surprised by their performances through the tournament, after all the had a truly epic fifteen-a-side season, one of their best in recent memory and a real return to the top of the school tree.
That return was utterly confirmed in the final game of the day, where another utterly brilliant performance saw them beat Kirkham Grammar School 26-12 to seal the title, their first ever title here, though they had reached three previous final.
There was some solace for Sedbergh, whose scrum half James Naylor was named Player of the Tournament, voted for by all the tournament referees.
Over in the Boodle & Dunthorne Salver, Group A’s Durham claimed the title by beating Lancaster RGS 29-14 in the final. With Durham and Lancaster RGS having finished second to Kirkham Grammar and Sedbergh respectively in the groups, it really reflected the strength of those groups.
En route to the final Durham beat Shrewsbury and Pocklington, while Lancaster RGS had seen off the Isle of Man Select XV and Ellesmere College. Ultimately though in the final Durham had just too much, adding a fourth Boodle & Dunthorne Salver to the Bowing Trophy that they won back in 1997.
Ultimately what this tournament will be remembered for though is the outstanding performances of Barnard Castle, who laid down a real marker here, one that will absolutely have set pulses racing about that group at Rosslyn Park in two week’s time.
It will also be remembered for simply going ahead, the North of England School 7s is such a valuable tournament in the school calendar, and this year’s edition proved just how important and exciting a competition it is. Fingers crossed that next year on the 7th March we have another outstanding day of School 7s in the North of England.
North of England School 7s Results:
Barnard Castle 26-12 Kirkham Grammar
Barnard Castle 24-7 Sedbergh
Kirkham Grammar 26-14 RGS Newcastle
Barnard Castle 38-7 Wirral Grammar
Sedbergh 19-5 Woodhouse Grove
RGS Newcastle 31-0 Austin Friars
Kirkham Grammar 45-0 King’s Worcester
Boodle & Dunthorne Salver
Durham 29-14 Lancaster RGS
Durham 34-5 Pocklington
Lancaster RGS 36-7 Ellesmere College
Durham v Shrewsbury
Pocklington 17-14 Hymers College
Lancaster RGS 26-15 Isle of Man XV
Ellesmere College 19-14 Old Swinford Hospital
Group Winners and Runners Up:
Group A – Kirkham Grammar and Durham
Group B – Barnard Castle and Shrewsbury
Group C – Woodhouse Grove and Pocklington
Group D – King’s Worcester and Hymers College
Group E – RGS Newcastle and Ellesmere College
Group F – Wirral Grammar and Isle of Man XV
Group G – Sedbergh and Lancaster RGS
Group H – Austin Friars and Old Swinford Hospital