The last ‘full’ day of schools rugby in England was in early December 2019, but on Saturday it came roaring back in incredible fashion with the first set of games of the 2021/22 season.
It was brilliant, unpredictable, competitive, and skilful, but most of all it was joyful. The sheer joy emanating from around the country at being back in action was utterly infectious. On the field, off the field, across social media, players, staff, and parents alike were exuding utter delight at the game being back.
It is not to say it was perfect, there were plenty of cancellations and drop-outs as some schools experienced covid outbreaks as a result of all being back in school together again, but these will happen, a handful of games will get cancelled or postponed each week. But then so too would games in any other season, usually because of the weather, between hard pitches, waterlogged pitches, and frozen pitches, games go by the wayside. Relative to the sheer joy of being back, a few games missing is a small price to pay and schools are doing absolutely the right thing in their approach.
So what of the rugby? Scores were by and large not taken as a result of most games being pre-season games and subject to large squads, varying laws, and unusual timings, but what became clear as the weekend drew on was that the quality of rugby was high.
Friday arrived with the sense of anticipation of what was to come in the next few days at absolute fever pitch. Coming two days after the Esher President’s Cup, suddenly school rugby had a sense of momentum again.
The rugby did not let us down either Gordon’s got a taste of what ACE league rugby will be like ahead of Wednesday’s big kick off as they made the trip to City of Oxford College. The hosts took a 31-5 victory, their ACE experience perhaps paying off, but it was a brilliant opportunity for both ahead of the big kick off.
Trent College and Ratcliffe College went head to head, no scores were kept but both will be glad of the chance of a run out, so too Ampleforth College, who kicked their season off at Malton RUFC.
Two sides that are really going to be interesting competitors this year are Harrow and Ipswich. Harrow have a side made up of two superbly successful year groups at U15 and U16 level pre-pandemic, and are going to be a strong outfit in all likelihood, but Ipswich ran them close, 19-14, as the Suffolk side justified plenty of the interest that has followed them since a big switch in focus towards rugby in the midst of the pandemic. A powerful unit, they are going to make a few waves.
Friday was just the warm up, though. Saturday was the main event as school pitches across the country suddenly burst into light. Between Festivals, Tournaments, Triangulars, pre season games, and fully competitive games, school rugby was suddenly alive. Here at NextGenXV HQ it was a real mixture of joy, adrenaline, and chaos as we strove to remember how to cover school rugby in depth once again!
Joy was the overriding emotion, as it was across the country, at the grounds and across social media streams it was as if there was a nationwide outpouring of excitement for each and every pupil that was finally pulling their school shirt on after so long.
At the Festivals there was a sense almost of a party atmosphere. King’s Macclesfield hosted their and we saw some fantastic bits of playing coming through from all around. The hosts put in a top performance, as did a number of the other sides in action. Reed’s and KES Bath put in some serious miles to attend and both had plenty of moments to savour. Hymers College and Solihull were full of exuberance at finally having the chance to play, so too the likes of Wirral Grammar and Woodhouse Grove. It was, and remains, one of the premier pre-season Festivals attracting the likes of QEGS Wakefield, Cheadle Hulme, Lancaster RGS, Old Swinford Hospital, and Bradford Grammar and it lived up to every bit of expectation.
Another of the major Festivals on Saturday was the Kingswood Festival. Sadly Sherborne were forced to drop out relatively late on, but the sides that were in attendance put on a real show of exciting rugby ahead of the competitive start to the season. Some of the most prestigious names in schools rugby were in attendance, Millfield, Colston’s, and Cheltenham College among them – all three of whom are worth following closely this year. Eton College sent along two teams as they really stepped up their preparations, with more local sides such as QEH, Prior Park, Monkton Combe, and the ever-impressive Bristol Grammar also in attendance. Monmouth and Cathedral School Llandaff made the trip from Wales, while Bryanston, Blundell’s, and Malvern College also made the trip with some strong sides.
Over at the Norwich Festival, one of the biggest stories of the weekend was the return to form of Bedford School. Bedford had suffered a quiet few years, but they have started this year with a bang after recording victories over The Leys, Norwich, and Bishop’s Stortford College. Close rivals Oakham, Uppingham, and Oundle were all in attendance and their scrap this year is going to be an exciting one, without doubt. There was plenty of East Anglian attendance too, with St Joseph’s College, Framlingham College, Royal Hospital School, Gresham’s, and Bishop’s Stortford College among them.
Among the games that did yield results was an impressive 26-7 victory for Bablake over Stamford. Merging with King Henry VIII Coventry, it looks as though Bablake have put together a strong side an will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks and months.
One of the games of the day was always going to be Northampton School for Boys’ trip to Denstone College, two schools that have been rising and rising in the last few years. It did not disappoint, a cracking game unfolded and only a handful of points separated the two, NSB winning 17-12.
Another close game came in the North West, where Austin Friars made the trip down to Liverpool College for a pre-season game and came back with a 26-22 victory. Staying in the North East were Barnard Castle, who were one of the most unfortunate sides when Covid struck in that they looked as though they could have made a real run at Rosslyn Park. They took on Cheadle Hulme and it looks as though Barnard Castle have another good side in the making as they prepared for the season with a victory.
Wellingborough look like a side to pay close attention to in the coming weeks. They secured a 42-35 pre-season victory over Bloxham, who have impressed in the last few years. They are in action again on Wednesday so it will be well worth following their early moves this season.
Iselworth & Syon put in one of the performances of the weekend in England with a 59-14 victory over St Ignatius College, while RGS Worcester were also in fine form as they strode away to an impressive 38-8 victory over Hereford Cathedral School.
One of the headlines games of the weekend was the annual pre-season game between Felsted and Dulwich College. Once again it lived up to expectations, two sides that will be strong this year going head to head and impressing. It was Dulwich College that impressed the most though as they sealed a 36-14 victory that ought to send them heading into Saturday’s opener full of confidence.
Langley Park’s season is off to a flier, they beat Skinners’ 24-3 to begin in style. KES Five Ways took on club side Huntingdon RFC and lost out 26-14 as their preparations continue. Meanwhile Reigate Grammar took the spoils away at Tiffin, 17-10.
Back in the North of England, Merchant Taylors’ Crosby were looking resplendent in their NPro headguards, and secured a strong 21-5 victory over the touring AKS Lytham to start their season off in exactly the right way.
RGS Newcastle had both their 1st XV and 2nd XV in action against 1st XV opponents. Neither achieved victory, but the weekend’s effort’s will definitely have done them plenty of good. Dame Allan’s came away very happy with a 28-7 victory over RGS’ 2nd XV, while the 1st XV took on a George Watson’s College side from Scotland who were already well into their season, and proved so with a 26-7 victory.
Scotland has been back in action for a couple of weeks, so there was some fantastic rugby on show there. With George Watson’s 1st XV down in Newcastle, the 2nd XV were left to travel to Hutchesons’ Grammar, who duly responded in style with a 52-0 victory at home.
There were some other dominant displays in Scotland over the weekend, a 44-7 victory for Loretto over Glenalmond College, Robert Gordon’s College beating Dundee High 52-7, and Edinburgh Academy travelling to St Andrews to take on SLM Blues and coming away with a 57-17 victory.
Arguably the biggest game of the weekend, though, was between two giants of Scottish schools rugby as Dollar Academy hosted Stewart’s Melville. Dollar Academy were absolutely on it, beating the visitors 38-12, perfect preparation for next weekend’s game against another giant, Merchiston Castle.
Back in England there were some triangulars and quadrangulars going on, all of them showcasing school rugby at its absolute finest. Brentwood hosted Coopers’ Coborn, Colchester RGS, and Duke of York’s Royal Military School in a fantastic day of rugby in Essex.
Over in Hertfordshire St Albans took on The Perse, Mill Hill, and Bedford Modern in another superb occasion, while in Surrey what was supposed to be a triangular between RGS Guildford, Emanuel, and KCS Wimbledon, became a one-off game between RGS and KCS. It started tightly but KCS held the upper hand and as the sides started to give more and more players the chance, KCS’ depth became highly impressive as they stretched out to a 45-10 victory.
One that did remain a triangular was in Kent, where King’s Canterbury hosted Cranbrook and Worth in what proved to be yet another successful reminder of the sheer joy in simply just being able to play rugby again.
Perhaps the biggest of the lot though was at Trinity, who in midweek had reached the final of the Esher President’s Cup. Perhaps they were feeling the after effects of that though as it was Seaford College and Tonbridge who had the upper hand, Tonbridge backing up a strong showing of their own at Esher to win two from two. There were no conversions and Trinity were involved in two tight games, losing 10-0 to Seaford and 10-5 to Tonbridge, but it was to be Tonbridge that put in the performance of the day, beating Seaford College 25-5 and laying down a statement that they really are a side to watch this year.
The final action of a busy weekend of schools rugby was the annual South Coast Kings tournament at KES Southampton. Scores were not recorded, but it was Hampton that emerged top of the pile in what was an incredibly deep tournament, played in fantastic spirit and with some outstanding rugby on show.
Beechen Cliff were in attendance, preparing for Wednesday’s ACE kick off, they take on Exeter College, so too the likes of Bishop Wordsworth’s, Churcher’s College, and Welsh side Whitchurch High School. Marlborough College enjoyed a great day out and are going to be worth watching, the enthusiasm from their players post game was absolutely evident and shows just how fantastic it is to have rugby back.
Brighton College sent down two sides and performed admirably, as ever they will be worth watching, meanwhile St Benedict’s built on a good outing at Esher in midweek, facing the likes of Brighton College and Eastbourne College in the group.
There was also a ‘Tier 2’ competition, involving second teams from Bishop Wordsworth’s and Marlborough College, as well as 1st XVs from Portsmouth Grammar, Dauntsey’s, Shiplake College, and the hosts, King Edward VI Southampton.
It rounded off what can only be described as one of the greatest weekends of school rugby there has been. Not because of the results or the performances or what players learned, but because they were simply playing. After 18 months or, as Cathedral School Llandaff so accurately put it, 631 days, that was all anybody wanted, all anybody could ask for, and it was absolutely fantastic.
Bring on the next round!
If you have any photos, video, reports, or any other content from the weekend’s school rugby then please do send it in via our social media channels or email@example.com and if you are interested in us live streaming one of your games or an event then please do get in touch!
Friday 3rd September
City of Oxford College 31-5 Gordon’s (Pre-Season)
Harrow 19-14 Ipswich (Pre-Season)
Malton RUFC v Ampleforth College (Pre-Season)
Trent College v Ratcliffe College (Pre-Season)
Saturday 4th September
Abingdon v Magdalen College
Bablake 26-7 Stamford
Barnard Castle v Cheadle Hulme
Brentwood Quadrangular: Brentwood, Coopers’ Coborn, Colchester RGS, Duke of York’s RMS (Pre-Season)
Bromsgrove v KES Stratford (Pre-Season)
Dame Allan’s 28-7 RGS Newcastle 2nd XV (Pre-Season)
Denstone College 12-17 Northampton School for Boys
Dollar Academy 38-12 Stewart’s Melville
Felsted 14-36 Dulwich College
Glasgow High School v St Aloysius’ College
Hurstpierpoint College v Sevenoaks
Hutchesons’ Grammar 52-0 George Watson’s College 2nd XV
KES Five Ways 14-26 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 24-3 Skinners’
Loretto 44-7 Glenalmond College
Liverpool College 22-26 Austin Friars (Pre-Season)
Manchester Grammar v Grammar School at Leeds
Merchant Taylors’, Crosby 21-5 AKS Lytham (Pre-Season)
Merchant Taylors’, Northwood v Ealing Trailfinders U18 (Pre-Season)
Nottingham High v Hill House
RGS Guildford 10-45 KCS Wimbledon (Pre-Season)
RGS Newcastle 7-26 George Watson’s College (Pre-Season)
RGS Worcester 38-8 Hereford Cathedral School
Robert Gordon’s College 52-7 Dundee High School
SLM Blues 17-57 Edinburgh Academy
St Ignatius College 14-59 Isleworth & Syon
Strathendrick RFC v Morrison’s Academy
Tiffin 10-17 Reigate Grammar
Trinity Triangular: Trinity 0-10 Seaford College, Tonbridge 25-5 Seaford College, Trinity 5-10 Tonbridge
Wellingborough 42-35 Bloxham (Pre-Season)
Wells Cathedral v King’s Bruton
Saturday 4th September – Festivals
King’s Macclesfield Festival:
|Pool 1||Pool 2||Pool 3|
|King’s Macclesfield||Wirral Grammar||Cheadle Hulme|
|Bradford Grammar||Woodhouse Grove||Hymers College|
|Reed’s||Lancaster RGS||QEGS Wakefield|
|Old Swinford Hospital||KES Bath||Solihull|
|Pool 1||Pool 2||Pool 3||Pool 4|
|Cheltenham College||Colston’s||Kingswood||Malvern College|
|Monkton Combe||Sherborne||Eton College 2nd XV||Millfield|
|CS, Llandaff||QEH||Prior Park College||Eton College 1st XV|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|
|Bedford||St Joseph’s College||Norwich|
|Gresham’s||Oakham||Bishop’s Stortford College|
|The Leys||Royal Hospital School||Framlingham College|
|Oundle||Bishop’s Stortford HS||Uppingham|
St Albans Festival: Mill Hill, St Albans, The Perse, Bedford Modern (Pre-Season)
Sunday 5th September
South Coast Kings – at KES Southampton
Tier 1 Pools:
|Pool A||Pool B|
|Bishop Wordsworth’s||St Benedict’s|
|Churcher’s College||Eastbourne College|
|Whitchurch HS||Beechen Cliff|
|Brighton College (Claret)||Brighton College (Navy)|
Tier 2 Pool:
Bishop Wordsworth’s 2nd XV
Marlborough College 2nd XV
King Edward VI Southampton