The annual St Joseph’s Festival takes place on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st October, with 16 teams congregating in Suffolk.
This will be the 32nd edition of the tournament at the Ipswich based school, and year on year it has produced some dramatic, high-quality, and enthralling rugby.
The last two years have been spectacular, in 2016 Cranleigh sealed a dramatic victory, with the final ending in a draw with Brighton College, only for Cranleigh to seal the title by virtue of scoring first.
Brighton College held onto that torment for a year and responded in the best possible way with a stunning weekend of rugby in 2017, culminating in one of the best finals performances in the Festival’s history. Against the most successful side in St Joseph’s Festival history, Brighton stormed to a 31-0 half time lead before eventually winning 38-12.
In doing so they also swept the awards, Jon Searle winning Try of the Tournament and Toby Smith winning Player of the Tournament, giving Brighton the player of the tournament twice in succession after Harlequins star Marcus Smith won it in 2016.
The South Coast side have not actually lost a game at the Festival since 2015, a stunning record, but will have to be at their very best to keep that going in what looks a loaded field this year.
The sixteen teams are set into four groups of four each. Those groups are completed on Saturday 20th, and on Sunday 21st the top two from each group go into two Cup groups of four teams each, the bottom two into two Plate groups, again of four each.
Cup Group A features the top side from Day 1 Groups 1 and 2 along with the second placed side from Groups 3 and 4, meanwhile Cup Group B features the top side from Day 1 Groups 3 and 4 and the second place side from Groups 1 and 2. Plate Group A meanwhile features third from Day 1 Groups 1 and 2 and fourth from Groups 3 and 4, while Plate Group B is made up of fourth in Day 1 Groups 1 and 2 and third in Groups 3 and 4.
The winner of each Cup group then meets in the Cup final, with the winner of each Plate group featuring in the Plate final, won last year by QEGS Wakefield. On Saturday each game last 30 minutes, while on Sunday each is 25 minutes in order to accommodate the final.
Group 1 – Dulwich College, QEGS Wakefield, Seaford College, Hurstpierpoint College.
Group 1 features last year’s Plate champions, QEGS Wakefield, who will really fancy their chances of a shot at getting to the Cup groups this year. They face a tough challenge though, not least from 2011 Cup champions Dulwich College, who are having a sensational season and are among the overall favourites for the competition this year.
Also in the group though are Hurstpierpoint College, one of the season’s rising stars and a side that could surprise a fair few people in this year’s tournament. They will really challenge for a place in the Day 2 Cup groups, as will Seaford College, who were late call ups to the tournament after the unfortunate loss of Cisterian College from Ireland.
Group 2 – Millfield, RGS High Wycombe, Eltham College, Denstone College.
Last year’s losing finalists, Millfield, will certainly grab most of the pre-tournament headlines in Group 2. They are arguably the top side in the country right now on form, definitely among the best handful, and will be eyeing this as a real chance to add to their record St Joseph’s Festival title haul, the title they last won in 2014.
They are in a tough group though, not least in the form of 2015 Plate winners Denstone College, who are possibly an underrated entity heading into this tournament. They will be eyeing not just a Cup group place, but a title challenge. Look out for Eltham College too, the South East London side are having a sensational season and could spring more than the odd side, so too RGS High Wycombe who have a remarkable track record in this tournament.
Group 3 – Brighton College, St Peter’s York, RGS Newcastle, Hampton.
Reigning champions Brighton College are the headline act in Group 3 and the champions are looking good once again this season. They face a once of the toughest groups though, with three really strong sides for company. Among them are the 2015 champions and 2016 Plate winners, Hampton, who are having a really strong season themselves and will be keen for another tilt at the title.
As will St Peter’s York though, a new entrant this year and a side that went through last season unbeaten. They are going to be keen to make a mark in this first season in the Festival and they are more than capable. So too RGS Newcastle, who always do a fine job here and are enjoying a strong season. If any side in this group relaxes too much, the other three will be waiting to pounce.
Group 4 – Merchiston Castle, St Joseph’s College, John Fisher, Whitchurch High School.
The hosts, St Joseph’s College, reside in Group 4. Whether in good form or bad, St Joseph’s College are always red hot at their Festival – it is the weekend around which their season is built, and with thousands of passionate fans around, who could help but raise their game to the maximum like St Jo’s do every year. They will be desperate to add another to title to their collection, they last won in 2013, and will be confident of getting to the Cup groups to give themselves a chance.
They have a tricky group though, 2009 champions John Fisher are a side, much like RGS High Wycombe, who always seem to perform well at the Festival. Whitchurch High School bring plenty of pedigree over from Wales, while in Merchiston Castle Group 4 hosts one of the strongest and most famous rugby schools in Scotland, who have made a big impression in the past couple of editions of the tournament.
2017 – Brighton College
2016 – Cranleigh
2015 – Hampton
2014 – Millfield
2013 – St Joseph’s College
2012 – Millfield
2011 – Dulwich College
2010 – St Joseph’s College
2009 – John Fisher
2008 – SGS Filton College
2017 – QEGS Wakefield
2016 – Hampton
2015 – Denstone College
2014 – Brighton College
2013 – Portsmouth GS
2012 – RGS High Wycombe
2011 – Bedford
2010 – RGS High Wycombe
2009 – Dulwich College
2008 – Bridgend
Player of the Tournament
2017 – Toby Smith (Brighton College)
2016 – Marcus Smith (Brighton College)
2015 – Roman Malin-Hiscock (Hampton)
2014 – Zach Mercer (Merchiston Castle)
2013 – Lewis Ludlan & Dan Lewis (St Joseph’s College)
2012 – Sam Denham (Millfield)
2011 – Max Northcote-Green (Millfield)
2010 – Alex Day (St Joseph’s College)
2009 – Chris Smart (Bedford)
2008 – Jonathan Joseph (Millfield)