Weekend Preview: School Rugby Returns!

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After the longest off-season in modern history, 20 to 21 months in the case of a huge number pupils, school rugby in England arrives en masse this weekend – finally!

By and large the weekend’s fixtures are pre-season games and a few have been lost to covid, but the overriding feeling is that this weekend is the weekend that rugby is back. The last time a number of 1st XV players walked out in their school shirt they were U15s, now they stride out at the very top of the school game in their prestigious 1st XV shirts. It is utterly surreal, yet it is utterly brilliant to see. Anyone that has seen any pre-season training or games would be able to tell you that, the joy has been clear for all to see.

Our focus will be on those 1st XVs and wider squads, practicality dictates, but it is worth making mention of 2ndXVs and below as well as all the other age groups. This is a season of celebration for all, of being back in the game, whatever the age, whatever the team, go out and enjoy it. 

Perhaps more so than any other year, too, expect changes. It has been so long since the last games that bodies have changed dramatically, different skills have been developed, different mindsets adopted, coaches will not have made all the right calls right from the start because the body of evidence does not exist – this year could be the year that you start in the 4th XV and end up starring in the 1st XV come the end of the season.

Whatever the question about this season, the answer is invariably excitement, and this weekend that certainly holds true. There are fixtures across Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with a number of Festivals brining different schools together as they complete their preparations for the season ahead.

It is going to be oh so fun.

Weekend Preview

Friday 3rd September

There are four games on Friday, all pre-season games in one guise or another. Harrow v Ipswich is going to be a good tone-setter for the season, Harrow have had some strong young age-groups in the past few years so they are a side to keep an eye on this year, while Ipswich, guided by Harrow old boy Jacob Ford, have recruited heavily and have really ramped up their fixture list this year.

City of Oxford College host Gordon’s in a real warm up for the ACE season ahead. Gordon’s are the ACE League’s (formerly AASE) newest entrant, while City of Oxford previously held that badge. This will be key preparation for both. In Yorkshire Ampleforth College take on local club Malton RUFC, which promises to be a good fun outing – school/club fixtures tend to produce plenty of fun on and off the field. Friday’s action then rounds off in Nottingham as Ratcliffe College make the trip across to Trent College as both wrap up their pre-season preparations under the lights.

Friday Fixtures:

City of Oxford College v Gordon’s (Pre-Season)

Harrow v Ipswich (Pre-Season)

Malton RUFC v Ampleforth College (Pre-Season)

Trent College v Ratcliffe College (Pre-Season)

Saturday 4th September

Saturday is a busy day and has some ‘full bore’ fixtures alongside the plethora of pre-season games and adapted law fixtures. There are also several Pre-Season Festivals on Saturday, which we will look at in more depth below.

One of the very biggest games of the weekend is going to be Warwick v Stowe a proper game between two famous names in school rugby. Nobody knows quite what to expect except that it is going to be a terrific atmosphere and a true celebration.

The same could be said of Felsted v Dulwich College. Felsted have had old boys Sam Bryan and Tristan Smith come in to help with their preparations, while this writer has seen Dulwich out on their playing fields in the last week putting in the hard yards. These two have played the sort of rugby that everyone loves to watch in recent times so expect more of the same here, Felsted are also one of the few sides to have managed to squeeze a game in during the May window, which you can see below.

Staying in Essex, Brentwood School are hosting a pre-season quadrangular with Coopers’ CobornDuke of York’s Royal Military School, and Colchester RGS, which should give all four sides plenty of game time and experience ahead of the new season. Always fantastic hosts, it will be well worth the trip to Brentwood if you are in the area. Usually a bigger Festival, but this year reduced to four sides, it should be an intimate and intense hit out for all the players as they get used to the game again after such a long absence.

Theirs is the only quadrangular, but there are a number of Triangulars on Saturday, perhaps chief among them being at Trinity School, where Wednesday’s President’s Cup finalists host Seaford College and a Tonbridge School side that were also on absolutely flying form at Esher RFC in the President’s Cup. All three are likely to be top performers this year.

In Kent, King’s Canterbury welcome Cranbrook and Worth for final pre-season preparations, while skirting around the M25 to Surrey, RGS Guildford will be welcoming Emanuel and KCS Wimbledon for their Triangular.

Sticking in the South East, Hurstpierpoint College and Sevenoaks go head to head in their first game of the season Hurstpierpoint have been on the rise in recent times and Sevenoaks have the potential to follow suit at any point. Langley Park and Skinners’ are also in their first proper game of the season on Saturday, a game that promises to be a good contest if previous performances are anything to go by. Similarly Tiffin host Reigate Grammar and St Ignatius College welcome Isleworth & Syon in two regular season fixtures that ought to be superbly contested. There is also a really exciting pre-season contest as Ealing Trailfinders’ U18s travel to Merchant Taylors’ in Northwood. Merchant Taylors enjoyed a successful few weekends of touch rugby back in December, which we caught live, and if their enthusiasm over that period is anything to go by, expect a side that is bursting to get out on the field on Saturday.

Into the Midlands and a fixture that, if recent years are anything to go by, is going to be an absolute cracker; Denstone College v Northampton School for Boys. Denstone are one of the strongest sides in the Leicester Tigers catchment, while NSB are one of the strongest in the Northampton Saints’, so even on that level there is good rivalry. More important, though, these are usually two top quality sides that will play the game in fantastic spirit – it should be fun!

There is a competitive fixture in Oxford too as Abingdon welcome Magdalen College. Having seen images of the pristine surface at Abingdon, this looks like it could be one of those glorious September fixtures between two good sides.

There is an interesting one up the road in Coventry where Stamford travel to take on what now appears to be the merged forces of Bablake and King Henry VIII. Stamford missed out on being able to field one of their strongest sides in years due to Covid, but will be hoping to still impress this year, this will be tough though, with two schools merging there is sure to be plenty of in-house competition and a lots of pupils with a point to prove.

Some cracking pre-season games litter the region too, Bromsgrove hosting KES Stratford in a battle of Schools Cup legends from across the decades, while Leicester Grammar make the trip to King’s Grantham and KES Five Ways taking on club side Huntingdon RFCBloxham, whose recent charges include the likes of Alfie Barbeary and Dan Eckersley, meanwhile travel to Wellingborough to round off their pre-season.

Rounding off the regular season fixtures in the Midlands are Nottingham High School v Hill House, and Hereford Cathedral School’s trip to RGS Worcester, a game that ought to be a close one.

It is a slower return to action in the South West, with most sides opting to partake in pre-season Festivals, however one game to look out for is Wells Cathedral v King’s Bruton.

The North of England holds some absolute crackers, including two of the strongest sides in the country over the last decade going head to head, Sedbergh and Kirkham Grammar School. It might only be a pre-season friendly and there will be big squads and law adaptations, but this is still a huge game and one that could well tell us a lot about the season to come.

Elsewhere there are more pre-season friendlies as Liverpool College welcome Austin Friars and Merchant Taylors’, Crosby host AKS Lytham. In an area of the country were the balance of power often shifts, these should be great fixtures as a guide for the rest of the year.

There is also a brilliant cross-Pennines clash between Manchester Grammar and Grammar School at Leeds a fixture that looks as though it is the first regular season game of the year for both and should a top one between two sides that are often knocking around the upper echelons.

RGS Newcastle have a busy Saturday, their 2nd XV travels along to local rivals Dame Allan’s, while their 1stXV play in one of the premier annual cross-border fixtures as they welcome one of Scotland’s most prestigious rugby schools, George Watson’s College. 

George Watson’s should be hells warmed up though as the Scottish season started last week, though they went down 15-7 to Glasgow Academy. Their 2nd XV will be heading to Hutchesons’ Grammar, who last week enjoyed victories over St Columba’s School and Morrison’s Academy. Morrison’s Academy will be looking to quickly bounce back when they face Strathendrick RFC on Saturday.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Loretto host Glenalmond College and St Aloysius’ College make the short trip to Glasgow High. Edinburgh Academy, meanwhile, are in action against SLM Blues, a combined rugby team as part of St Leonards’ partnership with a local state school in St Andrews and Madras Rugby Club, creating a combing side known as SLM (St Leonards-Madras) Blues.

Also in Scotland, Robert Gordon’s College host Dundee High School, however arguably the biggest game in Scotland on Saturday, and perhaps the whole of the UK, will be Stewart’s Melville’s trip to Dollar Academy, two absolute giants of the school game going head to head in a mammoth fixture.

The appetite has been well and truly whetted!

Saturday Fixtures:

Abingdon v Magdalen College

Bablake v Stamford

Brentwood Quadrangular: Brentwood, Coopers’ Coborn, Colchester RGS, Duke of York’s RMS (Pre-Season)

Bromsgrove v KES Stratford (Pre-Season)

Dame Allan’s v RGS Newcastle 2nd XV (Pre-Season)

Denstone College v Northampton School for Boys

Dollar Academy v Stewart’s Melville

Felsted v Dulwich College

Glasgow High School v St Aloysius’ College

Hurstpierpoint College v Sevenoaks

Hutchesons’ Grammar v George Watson’s College 2nd XV

KES Five Ways v Huntingdon RFC (Pre-Season)

King’s Grantham v Leicester Grammar (Pre-Season)

King’s Canterbury Triangular: King’s Canterbury, Cranbook, Worth (Pre-Season)

Langley Park v Skinners’

Loretto v Glenalmond College

Liverpool College v Austin Friars (Pre-Season)

Manchester Grammar v Grammar School at Leeds

Merchant Taylors’, Crosby v AKS Lytham (Pre-Season)

Merchant Taylors’, Northwood v Ealing Trailfinders U18 (Pre-Season)

Nottingham High v Hill House

RGS Guildford Triangular: RGS Guildford, Emanuel, KCS Wimbledon (Pre-Season)

RGS Newcastle v George Watson’s College (Pre-Season)

RGS Worcester v Hereford Cathedral School

Robert Gordon’s College v Dundee High School

Sedbergh v Kirkham Grammar (Pre-Season)

SLM Blues v Edinburgh Academy

St Ignatius College v Isleworth & Syon

Strathendrick RFC v Morrison’s Academy

Tiffin v Reigate Grammar

Trinity Triangular: Trinity, Seaford College, Tonbridge

Warwick v Stowe

Wellingborough v Bloxham (Pre-Season)

Wells Cathedral v King’s Bruton

Saturday 4th September – Festivals

King’s Macclesfield Festival:

12 teams will be in action at King’s Macclesfield to play a series of 30 minutes games. It will just be groups with no final and no recorded scores as the aim is for these games to be used purely as pre-season games, but there are some superb sides heading to the North West for what is always considered one of the premier pre-season Festivals.

King’s Macclesfield’s group sees Reed’s travel all the way up from Surrey, while Bradford Grammar cross the Pennines and Old Swinford Hospital travel up the M6 to make up a very competitive looking Pool 1.

Pool 2 sees another long distance traveller in there in the form of KES Bath, there are more local rivals in the form of Lancaster RGS and Wirral Grammar, who are absolutely raring to go if their social media is any indicator. They are joined by Yorkshire powerhouses Woodhouse Grove, who warmed up for the event with a game against the hosts earlier in the week.

Pool 3 includes schools rugby legends QEGS Wakefield, and they are joined by fellow Yorkshiremen Hymers College, as well as the more local Cheadle Hulme and another of the longer distance travellers, Solihull.

Pool 1Pool 2Pool 3
King’s MacclesfieldWirral GrammarCheadle Hulme
Bradford GrammarWoodhouse GroveHymers College
Reed’sLancaster RGSQEGS Wakefield
Old Swinford HospitalKES BathSolihull

Kingswood Festival:

There will be 16 teams in action at Kingswood, though two hail from the same school, Eton College. Games will be 24 minutes in length and, like in Macclesfield, scores will not be kept. An interesting quirk at Kingswood is that mutually agreed law adaptations can be implemented in any game with the referees consent as teams strive to get their practice in ahead of the season start.

The sides are split into four pools of four, and there is some cracking competition across them. In Pool 1 Cheltenham College could well be a side to look out for in the coming weeks, but they are joined by real strength in Monkton Combe, the ever consistent Bristol Grammar, and Welshmen Cathedral School Llandaff, who can claim the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit, among other, as one of their alumni.

Pool 2 has plenty of strength in it too, including Colston’s, who until Covid struck were enjoying probably their strongest period since their heyday in the 90’s and early 00s. Joining them are the ever competitive Sherborne, alongside Monmouth from Wales and Bristol’s QEH.

The hosts, Kingswood, reside in Pool 3 and they will be up against local rivals Prior Park College, as well as former giants Bryanston, and Eton College’s 2nd XV.

Eton’s 1st XV are in a fierce looking Pool 4 that includes Blundell’s, a Millfield side that were looking seriously bright in midweek at the Esher RFC President’s Cup, and Malvern College, who recently hosted the Academy Festival.

All in all it looks set to be a stringent pre-season test for all.

Pool 1Pool 2Pool 3Pool 4
Cheltenham CollegeColston’sKingswoodMalvern College
Monkton CombeSherborneEton College 2nd XVMillfield
Bristol GrammarMonmouthBryanstonBlundell’s
CS, LlandaffQEHPrior Park CollegeEton College 1st XV

Norwich Festival:

Norwich host another of the annual pre-season Festivals, and another mighty competitive one at that. Like at Kingswood there will be 24 minute game and results published or announced, there will also be no penalty kicks, drop goals, or conversions, speed and ambition will be the order of the day.

12 teams will be in attendance, split into three groups of four each, and there is strength in all. Pool A sees former Champions Trophy winners Bedford up against rising force The Leys, Gresham’s, home of the Youngs brothers, and Northamptonshire’s Oundle School. It should be a top group.

As should Pool B, which sees two of Suffolk’s biggest names going head to head, St Joseph’s College and Royal Hospital School. Joining them are Bishop’s Stortford High School, and one of the legendary sides of school rugby, Oakham.

Oakham’s closest rivals, Uppingham, are in Pool C where they are joined by the hosts Norwich, who are now under the stewardship of former Denstone College Director of Rugby, Jack Moran. Alongside those two are Bishop’s Stortford College and another Suffolk school crossing the border, Framlingham College.

Pool APool BPool C
BedfordSt Joseph’s CollegeNorwich
Gresham’sOakhamBishop’s Stortford College
The LeysRoyal Hospital SchoolFramlingham College
OundleBishop’s Stortford HSUppingham

St Albans Festival: Mill Hill, St Albans, The Perse, Bedford Modern (Pre-Season)

There is also a Festival at St Albans School in Hertfordshire, where they will be joined by a number of sides (exact details are yet to be confirmed to us), including Mill Hill, Bedford Modern, and The Perse from Cambridge.

Sunday 5th September

South Coast Kings (at KES Southampton)

The weekend’s school rugby is rounded off on Sunday by one of the top pre-season Festivals of all, the South Coast Kings tournament at KES Southampton.

Like Saturday at Norwich, there will be no penalty kicks at goal, however a greater number of matches compared to Saturday’s Festivals sees these games taking place over just 14 minutes in order to keep players’ playing time under 90 minutes over the day.

The U18 competition is divided into two, ‘Tier 1’ and ‘Tier 2’, there are 10 sides in the Tier 1 competition split into two pools of five, meanwhile the Tier 2 competition is one pool of six sides.

Pool A in the Tier 1 competition sees Hampton, who finished 4th at the Esher President’s Cup, up against some real strength, with Bishop Wordsworth’s and Churcher’s College among those in the group, alongside Wales’ Whitchurch High School, and the ever-strong Brighton College.

Brighton College actually have two sides in attendance, Brighton College ‘Claret’ in Pool A, and Brighton College ‘Navy’ in Pool B. The ‘Navy’ side face fierce competition too, not least in the form of ACE College Beechen Cliff. St Benedict’s will be looking to build on a tough President’s Cup experience that did see them build and build through the day, while Eastbourne College will definitely be looking forward to the hit out, as will Marlborough College, who were going from strength to strength pre Covid.

The Tier 2 competition includes the hosts, King Edward VI Southampton, and they are joined by Dauntsey’s, Portsmouth Grammar, and the ever-engaging Shiplake College, whose rugby is always worth following. Alongside those four are 2nd XVs from Bishop Wordsworth’s and Marlborough College.

All in all, it should be a fantastic day of rugby on the South Coast as pre-season preparations start to draw to a close a sights turn towards the main event.

Tier 1 Pools:

Pool APool B
HamptonMarlborough College
Bishop Wordsworth’sSt Benedict’s
Churcher’s CollegeEastbourne College
Whitchurch HSBeechen Cliff
Brighton College (Claret)Brighton College (Navy)

Tier 2 Pool:

Bishop Wordsworth’s 2nd XV

Marlborough College 2nd XV

Shiplake College

Portsmouth GS

Dauntsey’s

King Edward VI Southampton

No predictions from us this week, with most games being pre-season and it being over a year and a half since any sort of form, it didn’t seem right!

Please do send in your photos, videos, reports, scores if they are being kept, and anything else to admin@nextgenxv.com or to any of our social media channels – and remember, if you are keen to have one of your school’s games live streamed this season, please contact richard@nextgenxv.com

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