Schools Rugby: St Joseph’s Festival | The Secret Coach – Tournament Analysis

2023 St Joseph’s Festival The Secret Coach


What a weekend. As ever the St Joe’s festival delivered incredible entertainment over the course of a thrilling two days of rugby. On day two there were again plenty of shocks as well as epic clashes with the phenomenal semi-final between Millfield and Kirkham one that will live long in the memory of this observer. Beneath I have tried to pick a team of the tournament as well as created my own ‘power rankings’ to replace the placing games that happen that I feel reflect the strength of teams overall and not just the quirks of a draw. 


Secret Coach’s Team of the Tournament


  1. Jamie Stewart – Blundell’s 
  2. Miller Cole – Brighton College
  3. Isaac Godfrey – Whitchurch HS
  4. Rick Owusu – Denstone College
  5. Morgan Dryhurst-Jones – Kirkham GS
  6. Seb Kelly – Kirkham GS
  7. TJ Fanolua – Cheltenham College
  8. Callum Hirst – St Joseph’s College
  9. Lucas Norton  – RGSHW
  10. Ollie Davies – Kirkham GS
  11. George Bullivant – Millfield
  12. Lloyd McEwan-Peters – Wellington College
  13. Steffan Emanuel – Millfield
  14. Louis Harrison-Rix – Trinity
  15. Rocky Prowse – Blundell’s


Whilst many players put in exceptional performances these were the players in their individual positions who I felt stood out. I have played a couple out of position (Owusu & Harrison-Rix) as I felt they deserved a place in the team but did not quite get in at their chosen position for school. Some will question why there are not more from the RGSHW team who made the final and perhaps even Brighton who did so well to make the semi-final. My response would be that their achievements were based more on the collective spirit than individual excellence. These teams (indeed all who participated) were a credit to their schools; we can potentially also infer a more notable achievement for the coaching staff for those schools as as they have perhaps outperformed teams with more ‘star’ power. St Joe’s is all about squad collective effort and no-one encapsulated that more than the RGSHW team who should be considered one of the great Festival teams due to their incredible run to the final. I also considered capping each school to one player to get better representation but ultimately that seemed contrary to a team of the tournament. I have tried to be as fair as I can and made many changes over the course of the day. Please do let the team at NextGenXV know what you think and what changes you would make to selection. 


Secret Coaches Power Rankings 


This is who I believe to be the top ten teams based on how they performed at the weekend.


  1. Kirkham GS
  2. Millfield
  3. St Joseph’s College
  4. Wellington College
  5. RGS High Wycombe
  6. Brighton College
  7. Cheltenham College
  8. Blundell’s 
  9. Denstone
  10. Whitchurch HS 


I am sure this will cause even more discussion as my final rankings are a long way from how the final standings look. I believe there is very little argument that Millfield and Kirkham were the best two sides on show this weekend. In honesty they were some way clear of the rest of the pack. That semi-final deserved to be a final and I mean no disrespect to RGSHW by that; as I have said they are one of the great teams of the Festival but they simply could not match the skill and power of Millfield and Kirkham. This coach, for one, would love to see Millfield Vs Kirkham over a full 70 minute game. It is perhaps with thoughts on a 70 minute format that I have produced the rest of the rankings. St Joseph’s should have won their opener today and been in a Trophy semi-final based on their talent but they did not execute. Over a longer playing period I feel they would come through. Teams who were in the lower tiers of competition who I have placed higher than their Trophy or Plate counterparts is based largely on performances today and a reflection on the group draw. Wellington bounced back from a lacklustre day one to go undefeated on day two; Lloyd McEwan-Peters leading them to three fine wins, including a payback victory over Cheltenham in the Bowl final. That Cheltenham side is one I also feel is full of quality, powerful up front with some real threats in the backline and in TJ Fanolua they probably had the standout forward of the weekend. Whilst Whitchurch ended up in the lowest level of competition they were in Trophy contention going into the last game and really should have beaten Trinity in their opener. They had perhaps the best centre partnership and in Iestyn Hutchings arguably the best player to not be in the team of the tournament; though Ryan Solomons and Jimmy Thomson of St Joe’s would also compete for that title.


Final Reflections


Once again the St Joseph’s Festival showed it is a truly special occasion and should be cherished as one of the crown jewels of schoolboy rugby in the UK. Academies would do well to listen to players, parents and coaches when they talk of its value. Whilst we saw some of the very best players in the country grace the pitches in Ipswich this weekend there were also many notable absences with a number of EAP status boys being put on ‘forced rest’ by their academies. I will rant about the farce that is the EAP programme another time but to deny a teenanger a formative social and emotional experience under a facade of ‘player welfare’ is ridiculous. My final thought would be that whilst the festival has worked incredibly hard to achieve a true national level of representation it needs more balance. In my view the festival is in need of another English state school from outside of London. I would love to see an ACE college from the Northern conference invited. Not only would this add another state school so that Whitchurch and RGS High Wycombe were not the only ones representing where over 90% of pupils are educated (the state sector) but it would provide fascinating clashes between ACE and traditional independent school rugby. Overall, the festival was an incredible way to wrap up the first half term of rugby. Now to rest up before we do it all again in the build up to Christmas.



1 Comment Schools Rugby: St Joseph’s Festival | The Secret Coach – Tournament Analysis

  • “ In my view the festival is in need of an English state school from outside of London”

    You do know that RGSHW is a state school, right?

    And last time I checked, High Wycombe was both part of England and outside of London, so would seem to meet your criteria

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