The 2019/20 schools rugby season is upon us and what a season we have in store!
It all kicks off this weekend with a mouth-watering fixture between Sedbergh and Whitgift on Sunday. The Daily Mail Trophy, Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s, and Sedbergh 10s champions, Sedbergh, up against the Schools Cup champions, Whitgift. It does not get much better than that.
The usual staging posts are all there, the Schools Cup, Vase, and Champions Trophy all kick off in the next couple of weeks and we finish up for half term with the annual St Joseph’s Festival.
After half term we head towards two big finals, the AASE and Champions Trophy finals, before heading into the Lent term and the start of the sevens season, where hopefully the weather will allow play. It would appear that the calendar issues have been resolved and we will not have a situation where 7s will not be played even though it could. Fingers crossed for a season devoid of politics and directives!
7s of course will build along up to two of the big ones with the North of England 7s and the Surrey 7s, before we finish it all up with the National School 7s at Rosslyn Park in the last week of term.
The Rosslyn Park 7s it sandwiched by the final of the Schools Cup, Plate, Vase, and Bowl before it and the Sedbergh 10s after it, which rounds up the season for another year.
Those are the headline moments and the staging posts throughout the year, but the real stories for most, the excitement that every single player in every single school has the opportunity to experience are those bread and butter Saturday block fixtures.
Those big set piece events through the year are the big headline moments because they are easy stories with showpiece endings, but only a handful gets to experience them.
What everyone gets to experience is the unique opportunity that is school rugby and school sport in general. School sport is special. You are playing often with hundreds of years of history behind you, playing with and for your mates.
Playing in your school colours, especially for those wearing a 1st XV shirt for the first time, is a proud moment. You can take just about any rugby playing school in the country and there is a player at some point in the past that wore that shirt and went on to play at the top level. Some might have gone on to be heroes to all rugby fans, but all will remain heroes to those that pull on that same school shirt.
Enjoy that moment and enjoy the season, give it everything. There is a huge amount of momentum around keeping people in the game beyond school – as of course there should be, but what every school player should know and take advantage of is that for the vast majority this is the peak. University rugby is improving but at the vast majority, the quality, the coaching, and the facilities are not even close to what top school rugby offers. After University, sure there are great opportunities but again for most life gets in the way and unless you are at the top end then the opportunities in facilities, coaching, and quality are not at those heights.
School rugby is so unique, so genuinely brilliant in all of those areas – embrace it. When you look back in a year, ten years, twenty years, thirty years, you will remember these days. The games, the training, the trips, and most of all the atmosphere. Give it everything and the enjoyment will follow that as sure as night follows day.
We have been asked many times what we hope for this season, and in essence it boils down to just that. We hope that celebrating school rugby, the achievements within it, the stories that emerge, and the uniqueness and specialness of it, can be seen as a good thing.
Too often in the last couple of seasons has that been portrayed as a negative, or out of touch. Development is now the buzzword and my word has it been a success. The entertainment factor of school rugby has gone through the roof and players are now trying and succeeding in things that players of even four years ago would simply not even have considered – it is awesome. We love it, but it does not make celebrating the fruits of that and the wider brilliance of what schools rugby offers, and school sport in general, something to be ashamed of.
This season has so much potential to be a brilliant one. The growth in coaching that we have seen over the last few years is really bearing fruit and it is seeing more and more schools able to compete right at the very top end. The quality of rugby is fantastic and the competition immense and ever growing. On average because of the focus of building players skills and encouraging experimentation, the playing field is more level than it ever has been.
We could be in for a spectacular season!