After a brilliant weekend of pre-season Festivals, the Schools Rugby season is just about back!
Not that it was away for too long, no sooner had the school year ended than sides were departing on tours across the globe. New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa were, as always, on many agendas, but so too were destinations such as Argentina, Chile, USA, Canada, and Japan, with a few perhaps taking the chance for a bit of a pre-Rugby World Cup recce.
This weekend though saw the first real collective matchday preparations for the new season. Some schools took part in Festivals, others in three or four team round robins. Some were full on matches, while others were shortened or with adapted laws. The point this weekend was preparation.
That said, there was still plenty to take on board for those of us looking in ahead of what promises to be a thrilling 2018/19 season. Kirkham Grammar School once again look as though they will be a real handful, they were in action at the Wisbech Grammar School Festival and came away unbeaten in a good field containing the likes of Stamford.
St Joseph’s College also had an unbeaten run on Saturday, emerging from the 11 team Brentwood School pre-season Festival without defeat.
Friday afternoon in South West London was where the weekend’s warm up fixtures began though, with the annual President’s Cup at Esher RFC, this year featuring new entrants Millfield alongside some more established names such as St Benedict’s, John Fisher, Whitgift, Trinity, Emanuel, Hampton, and Eltham College.
Some thrilling rugby ensued, with Millfield impressing in their group alongside Hampton, while Whitgift were the dominant side in theirs. They would meet Hampton in the final, a cracking game of rugby that came down to golden point, with Whitgift scoring the crucial try to take home the silverware.
Of course the day was about preparation as much as anything else, with squads of 25 being thoroughly used, particularly given the back to back nature of the schedule.
Nevertheless, Whitgift’s success in a strong field bodes well for their season ahead. So too Hampton, who backed up Friday’s final appearance by heading down to KES Southampton on Sunday for the annual South Coast Kings tournament.
It is one of the summer classics and Hampton showed their class to win the tournament in a strong field that included the likes of Bedford, Bishop Wordsworth’s, and AASE side Beechen Cliff, feeders to Bath Rugby.
Not all tournament had silverware on offer, many were simply competitive training games or sets of training games, such as Abingdon’s fixture against Stowe or Rugby’s against St Paul’s.
KES Birmingham, Bloxham, and RGS Worcester were all in action, so too a training game between Bromsgrove and KES Stratford, while King’s Canterbury hosted Colfe’s, Gresham’s faced Culford, and West Buckland took on Monkton Combe.
One fixture that is always a highlight of this final pre-season weekend is Dulwich College v Felsted, a game that was split into quarters this year and with no result announced but a high standard of rugby on show without question. Sedbergh, the stars of the 2017/18 season, were also in action with Stewart’s Melville from Scotland paying a visit.
There was plenty more tournament action going on over Saturday too, not least at Hurstpierpoint College where a high class field that included Berkhamsted, Tonbridge, Reigate Grammar, KCS Wimbledon, Caterham, Sevenoaks, Brighton College, and RGS Guildford in an exciting day of rugby with sides showing wonderful ambition with the ball in hand.
Indeed perhaps even more so than last year, if possible, that was the big takeaway from the weekend. Teams and individuals within those teams feeling, or at least looking as though they were feeling, empowered to move the ball and to try things.
Already it suggests great things for the season ahead in terms of the quality and excitement of the rugby likely to be on show.
Teams were also gathered at King’s Macclesfield for their annual Festival, Warwick, denstone College, Manchester Grammar, Hymers College, KES Bath, and Scotsmen Strathallan among them. Similarly in St Albans where the likes of Shiplake College, The Perse, New Hall, and Hayes put themselves to a final big test ahead of the official start of the season.
Kingswood also played host, with Northampton School for Boys and Sir Thomas Rich’s among the attendees, with England flanker Sam Underhill, the former Sir Thomas Rich’s captain, in attendance.
While results across all of these tournaments and fixtures might not have been important, what was important was the preparation for each team. For those of us looking in it was a great chance to see what might lie ahead, and the early signs are good!
Attention now turns to the real stuff, starting in full on Saturday but with a few midweek games to ease us all in, not least John Fisher v Hampton on Wednesday and Llandovery College v Kirkham Grammar School on Friday night.
What a season it looks set to be!
Images via: Hampton School Rugby, Whitgift School Sport, Kingswood School Sport