The draw for the 2019 St Joseph’s Festival has been made and there are some exciting new entrants into the Festival this year.
Already known as one of the most prestigious and challenging tournaments in all of schoolboy rugby to win, the tournament will step up a level further this year with two absolute giants of the school game entering, Wellington College and Kirkham Grammar School.
Wellington and Kirkham replace Seaford College and Scottish side Merchiston Castle. Merchiston this year are hosting a festival of their own, which Seaford will be attending.
As ever, the tournament is a 16 team tournament. It takes place on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th October, with the initial groups on the Saturday before the Plate and Cup groups on the Sunday.
Saturday sees the sides split into four groups of four, the top two in each group qualify for the two Cup groups, both again groups of four, on Sunday, with the bottom two in each going into the two Plate groups. The winners of the two Cup groups then meet in the Cup final with the two Plate group winners meeting in the Plate final.
Group 1 – QEGS Wakefield, Dulwich College, Hampton, Kirkham Grammar
It is a bit of a baptism of fire for Kirkham Grammar in Group 1 with two former champions in the group Dulwich College (2011) and Hampton (2015). Hampton also won the Plate last year and in 2016, while the other side in the group, QEGS Wakefield, won the Plate in 2017.
It has all the signs of being a superb group, four sides with massive reputations in the school game and that could all cause each other problems and have a massive impact on the competition. Last year Dulwich and QEGS were also drawn together, Dulwich ended up topping the group and heading to the Cup, while QEGS finished bottom, ending up in the Plate.
Group 2 – Brighton College, Denstone College, St Peter’s York, John Fisher
Brighton College won the Festival in 2017 and reached the final in 2016, they are real experts in this shortened-time format of the game and have been playing well all season. They reached the Cup stage last year, as did Denstone College and the two of them are likely to be real headline acts this year.
St Peter’s are another strong side and were actually in a group with Brighton last year, it did not go quite as they hoped, but they will be a force. John Fisher, like Brighton, have a real reputation in this tournament and won it a decade ago in 2009. This should be a really fun group.
Group 3 – Wellington College, Whitchurch High, Millfield, Hurstpierpoint College
All four groups are looking tough this year, but if you were to pick a group of death this is most certainly it. Welsh side Whitchurch High School have a strong reputation but are going to be right up against it. It is not just that newcomers Wellington College and Millfield, two legends of schoolboy rugby, are paired together, but that Hurstpierpoint College are also there and are a strong outfit.
Millfield reached last year’s final and are the tournament’s most successful side ever, however Wellington College will arrive as one of the pre-Festival favourites too, despite having not participated in over a decade. Hurstpierpoint reached the Cup stage last year too, and will know that a couple of big performances could give them that opportunity again.
Group 4 – RGS Newcastle, Eltham College, St Joseph’s College, RGS High Wycombe
The host, St Joseph’s College, and the champions, RGS Newcastle, are paired together in this one and keep an eye on it – the crowds in this group will be massive as they always are when the home side takes to the field. They are joined by Eltham College, who reached the Plate final last year, and RGS High Wycombe, who are real specialists in this competition and are playing some top rugby this year.
RGS won last year by playing a tough forward dominated game, and do not be surprised to see that again, it threw a lot of other sides, so different was it to what the norm in school rugby is now. This group will have fireworks though, and plenty of passion.