December 2019 was the last ACE League fixtures, back then it was known as the AASE League and its last act was the crowning of St Paul’s Catholic College as champions.
A lot has changed since then with the arrival of the covid era, the name, obviously, and a number of the teams. Indeed St Paul’s Catholic College are no longer a part of the ACE League, London Irish switched their affiliation to Bishop Wand Church of England School in Surrey.
Bishop Wand are the newest side in the League, but they are not the only debutants, Harlequins have joined the competition for the first time through affiliate school Gordon’s. Gordon’s, who have been a growing presence on the school scene for some time, were due to join for the 2020 season but covid put paid to that taking place, so will make their debuts this year.
The arrival of Gordon’s to the scene means that City of Oxford College, who replaced Henley College as Wasps’ affiliates ahead of 2019, move from the southern conference to the northern conference where Moulton College have dropped out, meaning that Northampton Saints are now the only one of the Premiership Academies without a side in the ACE League.
All of that leaves us with seven sides in each conference. Up until half term teams will play the other sides in their conference once each and then after half term the two conferences will split, with the top half in each combining into two mini conferences, and the same for the bottom half in each. How the teams end up in those mini-conferences will determine who they play on finals day.
There are seven rounds of fixtures to get through before that though, starting with Wednesday’s opening round.
ACE Round 1 Fixtures
Brooksby Melton College v Bishop Burton College
Myerscough College v Gosforth Academy
Stourport High v Oaklands College
City of Oxford College v Bye
Exeter College v Beechen Cliff
Hartpury College v Truro College
Bishop Wand v SGS Filton College
Gordon’s v Bye
Form in this opening round is going to be near impossible to gauge, no side has played an ACE fixture since 2019, and none of the players in action on Wednesday would have played in that season.
The Northern Conference has some cracking games though, not least Leicester Tigers’ Brooksby Melton College hosting Bishop Burton College. The work of the Tigers academy in recent years is well documented, so we can expect a pretty strong Brooksby Melton College side, while Yorkshire Academy’s action through the pandemic has been nothing short of remarkable – both on and off the field. Bishop Burton College will surely be in a strong position as a result of that.
Myerscough College are at home to Gosforth Academy, Myerscough got some game time in back in May but it probably did not go how they might have liked, however they have been putting in some brilliant work behind the scenes and are no doubt inspired by seeing at close quarters the development at Sale Sharks. They are one of the most enthusiastic of the ACE Colleges and there is a real sense that things are about to take off at Myerscough in a bit way. They will be keen to impress against Gosforth, but the Newcastle Falcons side are a smart outfit, they tend to play some of the most exciting and engaging rugby in the league and it they get their offload game going, and in dry sunny conditions there is surely no better time, they are a real handful.
Worcester Warriors affiliates Stourport High will host Saracens’ Oaklands College on Wednesday. Stourport have seen how willing Worcester are to promote youth and will doubtless be inspired by that. For a long time they felt like the new boys on the ACE scene, but with so many new sides in the league now, they are certainly an established one and will look to capitalise on that status. Oaklands, though, are about as established as one can be. They have been in the league since the beginning and can count the likes of Jack Singleton and Nick Tompkins among their star alumni, they will be eager to get back to challenging for titles again, and Wednesday is their chance to lay down a marker.
City of Oxford College have a bye week before travelling to Myerscough College next week, and having warmed up with a good win over Gordon’s, they’ll be keeping a keen eye on proceedings this week.
The big game in the Southern Conference is surely Beechen Cliff’s trip to Exeter College. Beechen Cliff reached the 2019 final, which was the one of only two finals to have been won by a side other than Hartpury College. The other was won by Exeter College, making this a real heavyweight clash. Both are expected to be strong, Beechen Cliff have been challenging at the top end really ever since their entry to the league, similarly Exeter College have been at the top end, not least that title winning campaign, and will be hoping for more of the same again this year.
Of course the name in the ACE League is Hartpury College. They have, as mentioned above, won every title bar two. The players might have changed since 2019 but they will be still smarting at having missed out in 2019 so look out for a determined performance against Truro College on Wednesday. Truro have had plenty of pre-season warm up time, including a tough outing at the Esher President’s Cup, but Wednesday will be a step up again – the good news for Truro, a competitive performance will put every other side on alert to mark them out as one to watch. For Hartpury, well, they are always one to watch.
The final game in the Southern Conference sees new entrants Bishop Wand start their campaign at home, London Irish’s Hazelwood complex, where they will be hosting Bristol Bears’ affiliates, SGS Filton College. Filton are one of the original giants of the ACE League and with Bristol Bears growing ever stronger, so in turn should the confidence and style of play of this Filton outfit. It is going to be a tough outing for them though, Bishop Wand might be new but they have had plenty of time to prepare and they will be absolutely buzzing with anticipation ahead of their first ever ACE game.
Gordon’s meanwhile have a week to get themselves ready ahead of an opening fixture for them at home to Hartpury College. A daunting start, perhaps, but perhaps the most prestigious fixture that they could have wished for.
Further ACE League Fixtures:
Round 2 (15th Sept)
Bishop Burton College v Myerscough College
City of Oxford College v Brooksby Melton College
Gosforth Academy v Stourport High
Oaklands College v Bye
Gordon’s v Hartpury College
SGS Filton College v Exeter College
Truro College v Bishop Wand
Beechen Cliff v Bye
Round 3 (22nd Sept)
Myerscough College v City of Oxford College
Oaklands College v Gosforth Academy
Stourport High v Bishop Burton College
Brooksby Melton College v Bye
Beechen Cliff v SGS Filton College
Exeter College v Truro College
Bishop Wand v Gordon’s
Hartpury College v Bye
Round 4 (29th Sept)
Bishop Burton College v Oaklands College
Brooksby Melton College v Myerscough College
City of Oxford College v Stourport High
Gosforth Academy v Bye
Gordon’s v Exeter College
Hartpury College v Bishop Wand
Truro College v Beechen Cliff
SGS Filton College v Bye
Round 5 (6th Oct)
Gosforth Academy v Bishop Burton College
Oaklands College v City of Oxford College
Stourport High v Brooksby Melton College
Myerscough College v Bye
Beechen Cliff v Gordon’s
Exeter College v Hartpury College
SGS Filton College v Truro College
Bishop Wand v Bye
Round 6 (13th Oct)
Brooksby Melton College v Oaklands College
City of Oxford College v Gosforth Academy
Myerscough College v Stourport High
Bishop Burton College v Bye
Gordon’s v SGS Filton College
Hartpury College v Beechen Cliff
Bishop Wand v Exeter College
Truro College v Bye
Round 7 (20th Oct)
Bishop Burton College v City of Oxford College
Gosforth Academy v Brooksby Melton College
Oaklands College v Myerscough College
Stourport High v Bye
Beechen Cliff v Bishop Wand
SGS Filton College v Hartpury College
Truro College v Gordon’s
Exeter College v Bye