The draw for the 2017/18 Schools Cup has been announced, with some fascinating ties thrown up right from the very first round.
As last year, the U18 competition begins with the Cup and the Vase, after which the first round losers in the Cup will compete for the Plate, and the first round losers of the Vase, for the Bowl. The 32-team Champions Trophy, which is yet to be drawn, sits at the top of the tree, above the Cup.
The structure means a fairer chance of progression for more schools, but it does leave the competition a little thin in some places, for instance the U18 Cup Midlands and South West sections are desperately short of teams.
Nevertheless, the tournament contains huge names in schoolboy rugby, as always, and looks set to produce some thrilling rugby, while the Vase competition is packed full of schools.
North A starts with a bang, with a cracking game between King’s Macclesfield and St Ambrose College, former Plate winners, with the winner facing another strong school in Calday Grange Grammar School.
Manchester Grammar v RGS Lancaster should also provide plenty of thrills, a well as a tricky tie for the winner, they will face Wilmslow High School, who have a tremendous record of reaching the national stage of the competition. (Those reaching the quarter finals are put in a national pot, rather than a North/Midlands/London & South East/South West pot, meaning they could face the winners of any section in the country).
North B is arguably one of the toughest sections in the competition. Certainly it contains the biggest fixture of the opening round, Woodhouse Grove v St Peter’s York. Both sides have finished in the Top 10 of the Daily Mail Trophy for the past two years and will feel desperately unlucky to have drawn each other. The loser of this will really fancy their chances of following in Reigate Grammar School’s footsteps and winning the Plate.
The winner, meanwhile, faces Hymers College, and will then likely face a QEGS Wakefield side that has had a tremendous record at U15 level in recent years and will want to turn that into U18 success this year.
The other side of the draw is no less tough, with three schools cup legends, in the form of Barnard Castle, RGS Newcastle, and Durham, all of whom will believe they could go deep into the national stages. North B is brutally tough.
The midlands sections are struggling for numbers, and part of the solution appears to be that St Joseph’s College, the Ipswich based school, have moved from the London and South East region to Midlands A.
The big early fixture is a Rutland derby between Uppingham and Stamford, with the winner likely to end up meeting another big rival, Oundle, a couple of rounds down the line.
Midlands B hosts the champions, Warwick. Unusually the champions have not received a first round Bye, and will host King Edward VI School, Camp Hill. It is a very thin section of the draw though, and Warwick will more than fancy their chances of yet another run to the National stages. From there, they could well find themselves pulling off back to back titles if momentum swings their way through the season.
London and South East A
This is a busy section, with plenty of big names and exciting early fixtures, such as New Hall v Felsted, last year’s semi finalists, and UCS v KCS Wimbledon, with Whitgift also lurking dangerously.
One games that really catches the eye though is St Benedict’s v Emanuel, with Zoran Higgins coaching for St Benedict’s against the side he has just left, Emanuel. Success there could see him up against another of his former charges, Hampton, in round 3.
London and South East B
There is plenty of strength in London and South East B, too, with John Fisher and last year’s quarter finalists, Judd, who will likely be even better this year.
Trinity School v Eltham College could be a first round game to keep an eye on, both schools are capable of cracking through a few early rounds, but this first one looks a tricky one.
South West A
Bishop Wordsworth’s were runners up last year, and they will hope to have another good crack this year, with most of their side retained. They kick off their campaign against St Bartholomew’s.
It won’t be easy though, a win there will see them pitted against a strong Abingdon School, who move from the Midlands to the South West.
RGS High Wycombe are Schools Cup legends, they too are in South West A and kick off against Pangbourne College, with the winner facing the winner of Marling v Sir Thomas Rich’s. Dean Close v former winners St Peter’s Gloucester is another to keep a close eye on.
South West B
South West B has some superb opening games, with the most successful side in Schools Cup history, Colston’s, taking on Downside. Canford also lurk dangerously in this section, while Plymouth College v Exeter School should be a superb opening game. Ivybridge Community College are definitely a side to look out for, with their AASE side likely to make this a well drilled group.
North A includes some sides with huge Cup pedigree, including former winners Bradford Grammar School, perennial national stage contestants, Lymm High School, and the ever exciting Wirral Grammar School. This could be a very exciting section.
North B includes some equally big names in the world of schools rugby. The likes of Ampleforth College, Worksop College, Pocklington, and former winners of the competition, Yarm.
The strength of Midlands A explains the shortage of side in the Cup section. Old Swinford Hospital took last year’s Bowl and will hope to go one title better this year, but with the likes of King’s Worcester, Adams Grammar School, Ellesmere College, and the KES’, Aston and Stratford, it will be far from easy.
Like Midlands A, Midlands B looks strong. Langley, Bishop’s Stortford College, Leicester Grammar, and The Perse are generally strong, and will provide stiff competition for Trent College, who are looking to defend the Vase title, having performed tremendously in last year’s final.
London & South East A
Across the board this looks like one of the most competitive section. There are few standout sides, at least with recent history in mind, but an overall average strength that is high. Look out for the likes of St Olave’s, Dartford Grammar, Chislehurst and Sidcup, and Wallington County Grammar, though.
London & South East B
One name jumps out from London and South East B, Reigate Grammar School. Their presence here means that they will not be defending the Plate title that they won in such style last year, which suggest an all out attack for the Vase. It will not be easy though, they kick off against Glyn and face the winner of a local derby between Reed’s and St George’s Weybridge, with so many other tough names in the section, including Worth, London Oratory, and City of London Freemen’s, among others.
South West A
Torquay Boys Grammar, Mount Kelly, Thomas Hardye (one of the U15 stars last year), and Dauntsey’s are just a few of the names to look out for in what looks like a fiercely competitive section in which most sides will fancy a real crack at heading towards a chance of the national stages.
South West B
South West B looks equally strong with the likes of Dr Challoner’s, Aylesbury Grammar, Cokethorpe and Wycliffe all lurking, as well as Reading Blue Coat and Lord Wandsworth College in the top half of the draw.
*U15 Draw and U18 Champions Trophy to follow.