It is hard to know where to begin. As little as ten days ago we were all thinking that today we would be reflecting on a great few days of Schools Cup finals and looking forward to next week’s Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s.
Since then, though, the world has changed. On Monday evening both competitions were cancelled, by Wednesday it was announced that schools would close, today is the last day of term, probably of the year, and for those in Upper 6th, their last ever day of school.
It is an uncertain time, in terms of what will happen about exam results, university, and so much more – the loss of schools rugby is barely a dot on the horizon in the scheme of problems just now.
Nevertheless, what this last week has also robbed us of is a chance to celebrate the very best of schools rugby and for each and every U6th player to sign off their schools rugby in style, playing alongside their mates in some of the greatest competitions.
So it feels right on this last day of school to reflect on the achievements of all teams but especially those that suddenly find themselves classed as leavers. Whether in the 1st XV or the 8th XV, school rugby is a special time and memories are forged that last a lifetime. Only today this writer found a ball ‘borrowed’ from my U15 season and a flood of memories returned.
Those memories will exist for all those that have played this year and especially for those now leaving. The 2019 portion of the 2019/20 season was spectacular, one of the most competitive 1st XV seasons for a good number of years.
In Wellington College’s double triumph in the St Joseph’s Festival and Champions Trophy we witnessed schools rugby history as they became the first school ever to have won every major schools rugby prize.
We saw Cranleigh seal the Daily Mail Trophy in one of the most dramatic finishes to the competition that we have ever seen. Wellington College and Sedbergh had held the title for the last 5 years and looked likely to do so again, Sedbergh looking as though they would make it three in a row after defeating Wellington at Broadstreet RFC, only to then lose to a Millfield side that had built and built through the year, opening the door for Cranleigh to seal the victory.
We saw great sides of the not too distant past of the schools rugby world return to the top end of the game, such as Barnard Castle, who added to a sense that the northern region is really building, Sedbergh and Kirkham Grammar were strong, as ever, but the likes of RGS Newcastle, St Peter’s York, and Woodhouse Grove have been formidable too.
We saw less familiar names starting to really back a punch, such as Newcastle School for Boys and King’s Ely, in a year of schools rugby that saw the depth of ability reach new heights.
We also saw Rugby School, the founders of the game, return to the top of the game and reach the Champions Trophy final at Allianz Park. Hopefully it does not sound biased to suggest that a healthy Rugby School 1st XV injects real life into English Schools Rugby.
2020 was less good, giant storm after giant storm followed by the greatest crisis any of us has really ever faced, Covid-19.
That said we still saw some wonderful rugby and in Barnard Castle’s triumph at the North of England School 7s and Epsom College’s at the Edwin Doran Surrey Schools Senior 7s are to be the final memories of this 2020 7s season, well, at least we were given a treat.
Really that is the point, schools rugby is as much about the memories made and friendships furthered and made as it is about the actual rugby. It is an incredibly special time, and for the vast majority it will probably be the very best rugby that you will ever play. Some will go on to have great rugby careers, some may even go on to become household names, others will get to say they played with or against them once.
More than anything though, you played, you gave it everything, and at one time or another each and every school achieved something that they will remember forever, be it winning the Champions Trophy, simply winning a game, or even just a special try or a memorable away trip. They all count.
So while it’s sad that this season and your school careers are over all too early, let’s try to reflect on the good times and hold dear those memories.
And as a final word, we should give a huge thank you to all the staff that have sacrificed all season and continue to in the face of this pandemic, away from their own families, helping to support the children of those who work in vital industries. Hats off to them all.
Stay safe, celebrate the good times, but for goodness sake – do not go to the pub.