It’s another huge weekend on the schools rugby scene after a busy week of Cup action and some blockbuster outings last week.
Such is the excitement, selecting our Ten to Watch for this weekend was almost impossible – at one stage it was a list of 25. The breadth of quality and excitement is immense, with local derbies, Cup games, and in one case a local derby that doubles up as a Cup games.
It’s a weekend that has it all.
Hopefully, now that the season is now really taking shape, it is also going to be a weekend of real competitiveness and that participation is at its highest right through the levels and the age-groups, a subject that Angus Savage and Dan Richards explore in this week’s NextGenXV podcast – which you can watch below or listen to on Acast, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.
The also pick out their back row for our Greatest Schools XV of the decade, their Top 5 Teams of the last Week, take a look and injuries and participation after some headlines in the early weeks of the season, as well as a quick look at the St Joseph’s Festival and thoughts on the Worcester Warriors’ situation with regard to school level players, and plenty more!
Here though, attention turns to the weekend ahead, and what a weekend it promises to be, with a packed Friday and the busiest Saturday of the season so far.
Ten to Watch
As mentioned, picking Ten to Watch was a challenge this week – and not due to a lack of games. The depth of incredibly engaging. Looking fixtures was immense and there are so many games with a real storyline to them this weekend. Nevertheless, this was the set of ten that we picked out:
Eton College v Bedford
Eton were off to a flier early in the season, back to back strong victories over John Fisher and St Paul’s, but they were halted in their tracks a little last week when a Tonbridge side that had been struggling a bit for form came over to Windsor and held them to a 12-12 draw. Now on Saturday Eton welcome a rampant Bedford side that is unbeaten with strong wins over Oundle and Radley College, a draw against Rugby, and a tight Cup win at Haileybury in midweek. Victory for Eton over Bedford would be a real feather in the cap, a statement that they are a bigtime side this year. For Bedford, suddenly the possibility of an unbeaten first half of term looms into view and a real tilt at the Merchiston Castle Festival title in mid-October. It should all make for an epic fixture.
KCS Wimbledon v Wimbledon College (Schools Cup)
This is such a special fixture, and possibly the closest derby in all of schools rugby. It’s a five minute walk for Wimbledon College for Saturday’s fixture against KCS. That it is also a Cup game only adds to the drama and tension of this derby game, it’s knockout rugby and it looks as though it will be an even contest. KCS had a stunning season last year but it has been a slower start this year, but it has been a similar one for Wimbledon College too. Recent history leans the way of KCS, but the last time they met in the Cup, 2018, Wimbledon College were the side to progress. It really should be a cracker, and the reward for the winner is a home tie against either Hampton of St Paul’s.
Marlborough College v Rugby
If Rugby School’s form is anything to go by, this should be a thriller. Twice in these opening weeks they have had high scoring draws, once against Bedford, 29-29, and then on Wednesday a 36-36 draw with Warwick that saw Rugby knocked out of the Schools Cup as a result of being the home side. They travel to a Marlborough College side that is currently unbeaten, including a 25-3 Cup victory over Abingdon in midweek. Marlborough are looking strong as they build towards the St Joseph’s Festival, but even they don’t mind a draw, 7-7 v Cheltenham. Rugby meanwhile may not yet have a winning record due to those draws, but they certainly have plenty of quality and there is an expectation from outside that those will start becoming victories, as against Oundle. It should be a thriller of a game.
Millfield v Sherborne
Two sides looking to hit their stride in terms of results, though in terms of competitiveness they are right there. Millfield have lost twice, tough games against Clifton College and Coleg Sir Gar, and beaten Blundell’s in an exciting performance, Sherborne meanwhile had a narrow victory over Bishop Wordsworth’s, a defeat to Radley College, and then an exciting 31-22 victory over Collegiate in the Cup in midweek. Millfield will be keen to get out an perform on Saturday as they look to build momentum heading towards St Joseph’s. For Sherborne, Millfield would be a massive scalp but they will be keen to perform to their best too, and if they can do that then there could just be a chance. Two of last year’s most successful sides, it should be good fun.
Oakham v Bromsgrove
Oakham have, somewhat quietly, begun the season brilliantly. The warning signs were there in pre-season with a defeat of Brooksby Melton College, and then into the real season they travelled to a strong Rugby School side and won, and then they hosted their oldest rivals Uppingham in the Schools Cup and issued a resounding 64-7 victory. Now they host Bromsgrove and Bromsgrove will be a challenge. The Worcestershire side lost to reigning Daily Mail Trophy champions Berkhamsted, but either side of that were impressive victories over Sir Thomas Rich’s and Solihull, the latter of whom was in midweek in the Schools Cup. So these are two strong sides going head to head, and how each fares is going to tell us an awful lot about both and where they may finish up come the end of the season.
Seaford College v Berkhamsted
Last year when these two met it was the Schools Cup, Berkhamsted won that one, but this year it’s a full blown regular season fixture, and a massive one at that. Both arrived at this season with high expectations and both will see this as a game to underline their credentials. Seaford’s season has been mixed results wise but in terms of level it has been high, Hampton, Epsom, Wellington, and RGS High Wycombe being their opponents. Epsom and RGS have been beaten, the latter sealing a place in Round 2 of the Cup for Seaford, while Hampton and Wellington College, two of the best in the country have got the better of them. Now come Berkhamsted, reigning Daily Mail Trophy champions, unbeaten so far with victories over Bromsgrove and Warwick, but this will be their greatest test. It will mean a lot to both sides, and will be a massive test for both. Whichever way it goes, we will have had a real game on our hands.
Sedbergh v Ipswich
If the scale of Ipswich’s ambitions still needed confirming, then perhaps the fact that they are willing to commit to a five and a half hour (at least) trip to Sedbergh will confirm it for you. Sedbergh are one of the best in the country again, as ever, perhaps the very best. Ipswich want to be that level and are not far off it at all – President’s Cup winners, victories over Uppingham and, on last week’s live stream, Denstone College. Against Denstone they showed courage and determination to come from behind after only narrowly missing out on a comeback against Northampton School for Boys the week before. This is a serious Ipswich outfit. Sedbergh are a different beast to what they have faced previously though, leading The Schools Championship, after a stunning win over Whitgift. Further impressive outings against RGS Newcastle and Woodhouse Grove, four England U18 internationals in their ranks. They are the aspiration. Which only serves to make Saturday all the more appetising, the wizened old birds against the new boys. Sedbergh are setting the scene alight currently, they look outstanding. It’s an uphill task for Ipswich, but one they will be relishing.
Stonyhurst v Lancaster RGS (Schools Cup)
Another derby and another Schools Cup game, and a Cup game where the winners know the reward – a home tie against former finalists RGS Newcastle, following their defeat of Cup legends Barnard Castle. It will be an interesting one, it’s a first game of LRGS since the 10th September when they lost to King’s Macclesfield after a couple of cancellations followed. Stonyhurst also had a cancellation due to the death of The Queen, but since have gone down incredibly narrowly to a very strong Bradford Grammar side and won handsomely over Ripley St Thomas. It makes predicting this one tricky, but that just makes it all the more fascinating and you can be sure that RGS Newcastle will have more than just half an eye on goings on in Lancashire.
Whitgift v John Fisher
It is hard not to overhype this one, back in it’s Saturday slot and open to spectators after a five year absence. It was the biggest game in schools rugby, by crowd size at least, for a long time. Thousands used to find their place on the touchlines for one of the most intense rivalries in all of school rugby. It all got a bit too much for some on those touchlines and so this fixture was lost in its original form. Now though it is back, and while it may not have quite the touchline presence of old it will surely get to those numbers again. On the pitch, Whitgift start as favourites, but in this game all of that goes out of the window. It become about drive, passion, delivering on gameplans, executing skills, and dealing with the inevitable pressure. Most of all though, this is one to be enjoyed. Now that it’s back let’s savour it, let’s enjoy it, let’s bring the passion and the excitement – but let’s make sure we don’t overdo it and lose this one from the calendar again.
Woodhouse Grove v RGS Newcastle
Two sides that enjoyed important Cup victories in midweek and who have also faced many of the same opponents. In midweek RGS beat Barnard Castle 24-19 away from home in the Cup, two week prior Woodhouse Grove lost to them, again away, by fourteen point. The week after Woodhouse Grove lost 36-5 to Sedbergh, who had beaten RGS 40-8 the week before. What does all of that tell us? Well, that both of these sides are strong sides, that they are probably well matched, and that they both have the character to bounce back from a defeat with an impressive and spirited performance. Grounds for real optimism for a fantastic game between two real powerhouses of schools and northern schools rugby in the past, but also in recent times.
Calday Grange Grammar v Wilmslow High
Dame Allan’s v Yarm (at The Northern Echo Arena)
KES Birmingham v Solihull (at Birmingham Moseley)
Launceston RFC v Plymouth College
Mill Hill v St Benedict’s (at StoneX)
Rendcomb College v St Edward’s, Cheltenham (at Cheltenham RFC)
Sandbach v King’s Macclesfield
St Peter’s, Gloucester v The Crypt
Friday night is full of top fixtures, including a number at some famous grounds. The Northern Echo Arena, home of Darlington Mowden Park, hosts Dame Allan’s v Yarm, which should be a great game, while Birmingham Moseley hosts KES Birmingham v Solihull, an intriguing one after Solihull’s stunning start to the season was halted by Bromsgrove in the Cup in midweek – will they bounce straight back?
Elsewhere Mill Hill and St Benedict’s take advantage of Mill Hill’s close proximity to Saracens with a game there, it should be a good one too, with St Benedict’s looking to bounce back after a tough outing against St Albans last week. The South West sees plenty of Friday night action St Peter’s Gloucester and The Crypt going head to head, while at Cheltenham RFC St Edward’s Cheltenham take on Rendcomb College. In Devon, meanwhile, Plymouth College and Launceston RFC go head to head.
There are also a couple of big games in the North West, on the Wirral Calday Grange Grammar welcome Wilmslow High, while King’s Macclesfield are also in action, travelling to Sandbach.
Abingdon v Cheltenham College
Altrincham Grammar v Lymm High
Angus RFC v Robert Gordon’s College
Bishop’s Stortford High v RGS Colchester
Bishop Vesey’s Grammar v KES Stratford
Brentwood v Richard Hale
Brighton College v Trinity
Bristol Grammar v King’s College, Taunton
Canford v Blundell’s
Cheadle Hulme v Merchant Taylors’, Crosby
Churcher’s College v Reigate Grammar
Christ College v Hereford Cathedral
Claremont Fan Court v Latymer Upper
Cranleigh v Reading Blue Coat
Colfe’s v UCS
Coopers’ Coborn v QES Barnet
Dollar Academy v Fettes College
Duke of York’s Royal Military v Cranbrook
Durham v Barnard Castle
Eltham College v Caterham
Exeter v Downside
Felsted v Gresham’s
George Watson’s College v Stewart’s Melville
Glasgow High v Glasgow Academy
Gordon’s v Claires Court
Hampton v Hurstpierpoint College
Hutton Grammar v Birkenhead
Hymers College v Ampleforth College (Schools Vase)
Kelvinside Academy v Marr College
KES Southampton v Dauntsey’s
King’s Bruton v Prior Park College
Kingswood v Cathedral School, Llandaff
Kirkham Grammar v Queen Ethelburga’s
Langley Park v Wallington County Grammar
Leicester Grammar v Bablake & King Henry VIII
Loughborough Grammar v King’s Worcester
Magdalen College v Warwick 2nd XV
Merchant Taylors’ v London Oratory
Merchiston Castle v Edinburgh Academy
Morrison’s Academy v St Leonards
Mount St Mary’s College v Denstone College
Nottingham High v Denstone College 2nd XV
Oundle v Haileybury
QEH v Pate’s Grammar
Radley College v St Paul’s
Ravens Wood v Gravesend Grammar
Reed’s v Campion
RGS Worcester v Dean Close
Sevenoaks v Christ’s Hospital
Skinners’ v Tonbridge
St Albans v Aylesbury Grammar
St Aloysius’ College v Hutcheson’s Grammar
St Ambrose College v Grammar School at Leeds
St Anselm’s College v Manchester Grammar
St George’s College, Weybridge v Shiplake College
St John’s Leatherhead v RGS Guildford
St Mary’s College, Crosby v Bolton
St Olave’s Grammar v The Cedars
Stamford v Uppingham
Sutton Valence v St Lawrence College
Taunton v Collegiate
The Judd v Dartford Grammar
The Oratory v Bishop Wordsworth’s
The Perse v Norwich
Tiffin v Gunnersbury
Trent College v Princethorpe College
Warwick v Samuel Whitbread Academy
Wellington College v Dulwich College
Wells Cathedral v Clifton High
West Buckland v Queen’s College, Taunton
Wirral Grammar v The Grange
Worth v Emanuel
Wymondham College v St Joseph’s College
Saturday really is simply a sea of huge fixture. In how many other years, for instance, would Wellington College v Dulwich College not be a Ten to Watch fixture? Nevertheless it is a massive one, at one point not so long ago it was arguably the defining fixture of the season. Perhaps less so now, but nonetheless huge. Wellington are going along nicely, bouncing back from defeat to Harrow to win that TSC thriller against Whitgift before a strong away win at Seaford. Now they host Dulwich, whose start to the season has been admirable for the sheer scale of the challenge they have had – facing Harrow, Brighton, Trinity, and now Wellington. It will be another massive challenge, but with Wellington perhaps having half an eye on that game in The Schools Championship against Millfield on the 8th (catch it live on NextGenXV), Dulwich might just be able to catch them cold.
On a similar level is Brighton College v Trinity, two absolute giants going head to head. Both recently played Dulwich, as pointed out above, Trinity on fire to knock them out in the Cup in midweek, while on Saturday an injury ravaged Brighton side just edged them out. Injury might be in the way of a truly great game again on Saturday, though you never know, but either way one to watch out for ahead of a potential St Joseph’s Festival match up – certainly both will be in the conversation as contenders.
Another that will be a major contender at St Jo’s is Hampton, they host Hurstpierpoint College who are going along nicely too and will be hoping for their best performance at St Jo’s this year. So Saturday will be a big on in that context, a challenge for Hurstpierpoint against Hampton, for Hampton are unbeaten so far, but a test of that unbeaten record for Hampton too.
If St Joseph’s Festival contenders are on the agenda, and all six of those mentioned so far will be there, then Kirkham Grammar School must be a part of the conversation. In their 19-17 defeat of Clifton College last week, see below, they announced themselves as one of the top two or three schools in the country and title contenders at the St Joseph’s Festival once again – and that has been their only game so far. On Saturday they take on Queen Ethelburga’s, a slightly lesser challenge perhaps, but a side that Kirkham cannot afford to slip up against as they look to keep momentum ahead of St Jo’s.
Like Kirkham, Denstone College have been on our streams this season (scroll up to our Ten to Watch to see their game against Ipswich), and like Kirkham they are going to be among the contenders at the St Joseph’s Festival. Preparations for that continue on Saturday with a really tricky trip to reigning U18 Schools Vase champions Mount St Mary’s College. It ought to be a tough game, Mount St Mary’s biggest of the season so far, between two top sides.
Speaking of the Vase, there is also a little bit of Vase action on Saturday as Ampleforth College travel to Hymers College. It should be a pretty decent one, Hymers have looked good but Ampleforth have huge history and have had a fairly promising start.
Straying slightly further North, there is a huge game at Durham as they welcome Barnard Castle. Two giants of the school game going head to head in what will be an interesting one, Durham are unbeaten and flying along and the same was true of Barney until RGS Newcastle came along in the Cup in midweek.
Over in the North West it’s a bust day, Wirral Grammar are again having an good season so far and will look to continue that at home against The Grange. Cheadle Hulme v Merchant Taylors’ Crosby looks like a cracking game, as does Manchester Grammar’s trip to St Anselm’s College.
Lymm High are at Altrincham Grammar, while St Mary’s College head to Bolton and Hutton Grammar welcome Birkenhead. Meanwhile Yorkshire’s Grammar School at Leeds travel over for a massive game at St Ambrose College.
In Nottingham, Trent College host Princethorpe College and Nottingham High welcome Denstone College in what is a busy day in the Midlands section of the country.
It really is an intense day in that Midlands section of the country. Leicester Grammar are hosting Bablake & King Henry VIII, while along the road is a massive one as Stamford look to insure that they keep the momentum from their good start against an Uppingham side that are desperate for a big performance after some tough results. One of Uppingham’s great rivals, Oundle have had a similarly tough start and now have the tricky task of welcoming an incredibly strong Haileybury side who are motivated by back to back narrow defeats.
Not too far away Loughborough Grammar welcome a buoyant King’s Worcester side, while further South Bishop’s Stortford High, who look really strong this year, welcome RGS Colchester.
Oxford is a real hug of top quality activity this Saturday, to least in a schools rugby classic fixture between Radley College and St Paul’s. Both have had funny starts, incredible results one week and then tough to take the next, they will each be hoping that Saturday is one of their top performing days and if it is then the outcome could be spectacular. Just down the road Abingdon are hosting Cheltenham College in a similarly high-level encounter on Saturday, oddly Abingdon’s only opponents so far have been Marlborough College, who have beaten them twice, once in the Cup once outside it. Cheltenham have played a wider range of opponents but, like Abingdon, Marlborough were their last opponents, they drew 7-7. That suggests Cheltenham start as favourites but expect a close challenge. Also in Oxford, Magdalen College welcome Warwick’s 2nd XV.
Warwick 1st XV meanwhile stay at home to welcome former Schools Vase winners Samuel Whitbread. As three-time Cup winners, Warwick have the deeper history perhaps, but expect a huge challenge to be laid down, how Warwick respond to that will tell us plenty of them. Elsewhere in that Western Midlands part of the country, KES Stratford are at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar, while RGS Worcester welcome Dean Close, a game that should be worth popping in to watch.
Hopping further West and into Wales, Christ College are welcoming another English side in the form of Hereford Cathedral School. Back across in the South West of England things are busy, Cathedral School Llandaff head over from Wales to take on Kingswood, while King’s Bruton host Prior Park College and Wells Cathedral welcome Clifton High.
King’s College Taunton are off for a cracking looking game at Bristol Grammar, while local rivals Queen’s College Taunton head to West Buckland and fellow Taunton side Taunton School have the somewhat daunting prospect of welcoming a strong Collegiate side.
Canford v Blundell’s is not to be missed, Canford have played some lovely rugby and Blundell’s were exceptional in defeating Haileybury on our live stream last week and again in the Cup in midweek. Exeter School meanwhile welcome Downside, and Pate’s Grammar are at QEH.
Along the coast towards the South East, Dauntsey’s head to KES Southampton and the very much in form and firing Reigate Grammar School are at Churcher’s College. Worth meanwhile host Emanuel, while further into Surrey St George’s College Weybridge welcome Shiplake College and local rivals Reed’s, who have had a good start to the year, welcome Campion from East London.
Cranleigh, who are looking to bounce back after a tough season opener, take on a Reading Blue Coat side that are really pushing themselves this year. They have had a good start and came close to a huge scalp against St Paul’s last week, they will be hoping to go just that little bit further on Saturday. Over towards Reading, The Oratory are hosting Bishop Wordsworth’s fresh from a good performance against Pangbourne in midweek, while back in Surrey Gordon’s host Claires Court. St John’s Leatherhead came close against Epsom College this week, now they take on the side that defeat Epsom in their opener and have been flying high ever since, RGS Guildford, this one has all the signs of being a top game.
Skirting around the M25 to it’s south eastern stretches and Kent, surely the game of the day is Skinners’ v Tonbridge. Skinners’ defeated Tonbridge last year, a major achievement, and started this year with a bang while Tonbridge struggled. Tonbridge turned the tide with a draw last week though, while Skinners’ stumbled slightly with a first defeat, both sides are going to be determined to make a point here. One side seemingly making them every time they step on the field are The Judd, who were terrific once again in midweek against John Fisher. They now turn their sights towards Dartford Grammar who are going to need to be sharp as a tack.
Elsewhere, Cranbrook head to Duke of York’s Royal Military, who are really pushing hard this year, while Sevenoaks host Christ’s Hospital and St Olave’s Grammar welcome The Cedars. Sutton Valence remain a huge threat, they are at home against St Lawrence College.
Further into London Caterham are travelling to take on Eltham College, looking to bounce back after a good performance in defeat to Reigate Grammar in their derby. Colfe’s welcome UCS and Latymer Upper head to Claremont Fan Court, while Langley Park welcome Wallington County Grammar.
Merchant Taylors’ have a big one against London Oratory, so too Ravens Wood, who welcome Gravesend Grammar. Meanwhile Tiffin, who have had some strong performances, host Gunnersbury.
To the North of London, St Albans are looking to back up that sensational performance against St Benedict’s when they host Aylesbury Grammar, meanwhile QES Barnet are travelling to Coopers’ Coborn. Traveling from Hertfordshire also are Richard Hale, heading to Essex to take on Brentwood in a real clash of two rising stars.
There is a clash of established stars too as Felsted host Gresham’s, two sides that have produced countless top level players. Also on the move from Norfolk are Norwich, they head to The Perse. While Wymondham College welcome St Joseph’s College, who are now well and truly into Festival preparation mode.
We finish off this week’s preview with a trip up to Scotland and first up a really top level game between George Watson’s College and Stewart’s Melville. Eyes need to be open everywhere though because there are plenty of top fixtures, Dollar Academy v Fettes College among them. Merchiston Castle v Edinburgh Academy though is truly a classic, one of the oldest fixtures in the world and two fantastic side.
There is a Glasgow derby as Glasgow High welcome Glasgow Academy, meanwhile St Aloysius’ Collegehost Hutcheson’s Grammar. Marr College are in action at Kelvinside Academy, with Morrison’s Academy hosting St Leonards, and there is club action for Robert Gordon’s College as they travel to take on Angus RFC.