Howden Rosslyn Park National School 7s: Angus Savage Blog | 10 years of covering schools rugby history at the RPNS7s

The 2024 Howden Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s will be my 10th RPNS7s in a media capacity, having first covered the tournament in all it’s glory back in 2013 when Sedbergh beat Woodhouse Grove in the Boys U18 Cup final.


I know what you’re thinking, 2013 would make 2024 the 12th tournament, however Covid forced the cancellations of the 2020 and 2021 editions of this great tournament, making 2024 the 10th, not counting a couple of tournaments as a player many years ago.


Great is no understatement when it comes to describing this tournament, every year serves as another reminder of just what an incredible week of rugby the Howden Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s is. Never the same twice, it always serves up drama, no matter the weather.


The weather. It might be a peculiarly British trait to make the weather a key part of these ten year reflections, but the weather shapes these tournaments in ways that always end up being memorable.


That first tournament I visited in 2013 saw the Boys U18 Cup knockouts played out in near freezing conditions, with the final played into the face of a vicious hailstorm. I watched from the comfort of my car, unable to brave the conditions any longer, and yet on the field it was magnificent as teams battled the elements and had questions asked of them in terms of commitment and desire that have rarely been asked again. It made the tournament.


Between then and the covid years we faced sun, rain, snow, and wind, but always the tournament produced these epic occasions, whether in those flagship U18 tournaments, right through to the Prep and Juniors.


2022 was the crowning glory though, after a two year absence the tournament returned. The whole country, let alone schools rugby, was battling to regain a steady footing after the pandemic and there was a real air of uncertainty. As if on cue, the sun burst through, it was t-shirts and sun cream weather at Rosslyn Park and it was as if the tournament itself was pumping oxygen into the very essence of schools rugby. It was invigorating and it was glorious, so much so that it is the one year where I really have to stretch the memory to recall the various champions, not because they weren’t worthy, but because that tournament, more than any other, was all about the occasion and the joy that spread across the entire competition.


Last year saw the retribution for that 2022 sunshine, a five day downpour that left the place an absolute quagmire. It could have been miserable, but only if you are devoid of the ability to understand this tournament’s ability to show off everything that is great about school rugby. Who can forget the sheer joy from Newman College’s mud caked girls as they won the Girls U18 Cup, or the Boys U18 Cup final for the ages between Harrow and Brighton College, barely distinguishable from one another such was the mud covering on the shirts as the darkness set in with night falling, they produced a final for the ages. Rosslyn Park always delivers.


Over the ten tournaments the 7s has changed enormously, back in 2013 there were six competitions; the Juniors, the Prep Schools, the Colts tournament, a Girls U18 competition, and two Boys U18 competitions, the Open and the Festival.


Ten tournaments on and now there are eleven competitions, including four Girls competitions, matching the Boys with U14s, U16s, and two U18s competitions, while the Juniors and Prep competitions remain, along with the U11s, which was added into the main mix in 2022.


The Girls expansion has been an incredible development not just for what it has brought to the tournament, an ever growing quality and a sense of joy that has been brilliant to witness, but also for what it has done in growing and encouraging girls rugby, and girls 7s in particular, in schools.


On the boys front bringing in the U14s and the U11s (which is mixed) has been superb, watching the young players rub shoulders with the idols in the U18s competitions has been outstanding. There have been some truly memorable moments down the years of U18s inspiring the youngsters with their support, such as Sedbergh’s U18 side cheering on their Prep school side, or Bromsgrove’s U18s taking a break from preparing for their U18 Schools Cup final to watch their junior side.


The most significant change though has been the move from Open and Festival at U18 level to Cup and Vase. Previously there was debate as to who the top 7s side in the country was, the Open winner or the Festival winner. In 2016 they were renamed Cup and Vase in an effort to make the Cup the best of the best competition and the Vase an emerging sides competition. There was resistance, but slowly schools started to understand the point – it’s supposed to be hard, it’s supposed to be a test against the best around.


Now in 2024 there is no debate, this year the tournament moved a number of the last stragglers in the Vase to the Cup and it is set to be the most competitive and high-level Cup competition ever – and that is saying something, because it has never been anything but that.


On a personal level 2024 marks a real moment of pride and excitement as NextGenXV becomes the official broadcast partner of the Howden Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s, bringing exclusive live coverage from RE1 and RE2 along with brand new preview and review shows every day as we aim to take the coverage of the tournament to the next level. A far cry from running around with a pen and paper in 2013, trying desperately to spread the word about what a special week this is.


It is special. So very special. From the U11s, through U13s, 14s, and 16s, both boys and girls. Inevitably when reflecting though, the mind leads to those epic Boys U18 Cup moments, those are the teams and players that we have always been the most familiar with, and those moments have arrived over and over again.


To pick out a handful, Tom Whiteley’s performances for Millfield in 2014 were other worldly – in a side that also contained Adam Hastings (Scotland), Callum Sheedy (Wales), and Alex Coombs (GB 7s) he shone above all others, earning a Saracens contract off the back of it and a professional career that is still ongoing.


Cameron Redpath in 2018 was pretty much on one leg, and yet somehow in the final he managed to drag Sedbergh almost single-handedly to the title against a Cranleigh side that was chasing three in a row. It was inspirational stuff, and just two months later Eddie Jones was calling him into and England squad.


That Cranleigh side chasing three in a row was magnificent, but the high water mark was their 2017 triumph, against a Marcus Smith inspired Brighton College in the final they were utterly superb, with Hugh Tizard among the star turns. It was a stunning performance.


Some of the greatest school sides ever to play the school game have taken to the field over the ten years, that Millfield side of 2014 had a back and forth with Wellington College over the course of about three seasons that has become the stuff of legend, two genuine greats locked in rivalry. Cranleigh’s 7s performances from 2016 to 2018 were other worldly, while the Sedbergh side of 2018 was a true great, earning an epic triple crown of titles across different formats, the Daily Mail Trophy, the Rosslyn Park 7s, and, a few days later, the Sedbergh 10s.


Last year Harrow added their name to that list, winning the U16s title for the second year in a row and winning that epic game in the dark against Brighton College to complete an U16 and U18 double. Since then they have done it all, back to back Daily Mail Trophy champions, ranked number 1 in the country here on NextGenXV, an unbeaten season, and, last week, a maiden Continental Tyres Schools Cup title.


Now they head back to the Howden Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s aiming to retain their U18 and U16 titles, to do so in either competition would be extraordinary, let alone both. They are already one of the greatest school sides of all time, should they become the first ever side to win both the Schools Cup and the Rosslyn Park 7s titles in the same season the question would have to be asked – are they the greatest school side ever?


That’s the Howden Rosslyn Park National School 7s. It’s a place where legends are made. For most it is about personal memories and collective ones with your teammates, it is about the sheer joy of the game and the experience. It is about going to university and already having a common bond with those you meet “did you play at Rosslyn Park?”.


For some though it becomes about history, about creating schools rugby history and being a part of the legacy of this incredible tournament. Covering that history for 10 tournaments, and hopefully giving a good account of that joy and those memories, has been a privilege. Here’s to the next 10.


By Angus Savage


You can watch all of the action from Pitches RE1 and RE2 at the 2024 Howden Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s LIVE on the NextGenXV YouTube Channel: RPNS7s LIVE

Back to top