Ahead of Saturday’s schools rugby fixtures we said that it felt as though it was going to be one of the most important weekends of the season, so it proved as some huge statements were made that will set up the pattern for the rest of the term.
Unbeaten records were extended, others were lost, and a number of teams enjoyed statement victories. It was a weekend that saw plenty of close games, not least a tight 6-0 victory for St Paul’s over Eton College and an impressive 19-15 effort from Bradford Grammar that so nearly put them into this week’s Top 5.
The competition for this week’s Top 5 was as high as any this season, any number of teams could have made it and choosing between them was a real challenge. Eventually though we made our choices, though in reality given another hour or so we would have changed our minds five or six times, such was the quality.
Top 5 School Teams of the Weekend
Last week St Peter’s York won a really close game against RGS Newcastle, while a few days before Barnard Castle had been knocked out of the Cup by just a couple of points to the same opposition. Predictions were all set then for a close game on Saturday when Barnard Castle hosted St Peter’s and yet when it came to it this Barnard Castle side, that have been so good all year, put in an awesome display for a commanding 47-19 victory. It was the sort of victory that says everything about their season so far, they have been magnificent and this was a real feather in the cap. The rewards for the players have come through too, 13 were recently selected for County Durham, a brilliant achievement and richly deserved.
Canford travelled down to Seaford College on Saturday for a key Schools Cup tie, with the winner set to travel to Abingdon on Wednesday for the regional final. A close game was expected, Canford have been exceptional all year but Seaford College have been in good form too and are a strong side. What few could have expected though was for Canford to be quite so commanding on their way to a stunning 41-5 victory. It was surely one of the signature performances of a season that has seen them go undefeated in their regular games, heading to Abingdon on Wednesday they must now be feeling hugely confident of making it to the national stage of the competition. It truly was a wonderful performance.
Cranleigh hosted a huge game on Saturday, a battle of the unbeaten teams as they hosted Epsom College. Both have been in stunning form this season, as their unbeaten records suggest, and Epsom College have secured themselves another semi finals spot in the Champions Trophy (they play Wellington College in that on Wednesday). However on Saturday Cranleigh came absolutely flying out of the traps showing all of their undoubted quality as well as bags of desire to secure a 26-5 victory that has had the world of schools rugby sitting up and taking real notice of this side, who must now be eyeing up the possibility of going the entire season unbeaten, particularly given that Epsom were probably their biggest challenge to date.
There have been good moments and bad moments for Millfield this season but on Saturday they had a great moment. Heading into their game against Cheltenham College they were probably considered the favourites, but it was expected to be a game that would really hang in the balance, Cheltenham College had lost just once all year and that was to Champions Trophy semi finalists, Rugby. However Millfield put in an absolutely stunning shift for a 40-6 victory that showed off all of the quality that they have in the locker and will probably go down as their most impressive result of the season to date. With a key run of games now coming up it was a perfect time to put in such a statement result and should fill them with confidence heading into games with the likes of Whitgift and Sedbergh.
Another of the key games on Saturday saw two more of the best teams in the country going head to head as Wellington College travelled to Clifton College. The two have been brilliant this year, Clifton’s only defeat coming in the Champions Trophy, while Wellington College are unbeaten, have won the St Joseph’s Festival, and have a Champions Trophy semi final on Wednesday. Yet travelling to Clifton nerves were high for the Berkshire school, with injuries and fixture pile up a worry. Yet they dug so deep, both sides did, in an epic game of schoolboy rugby that left some players and spectators in tears such was the sheer emotion of it all. Wellington claimed the victory, 19-14, and keep that unbeaten season and irresistible momentum, but both came away with respect from the schools rugby world as two of the best around.
Of course there were a huge number of other impressive displays that really deserved more than just a mention. Abingdon were outstanding in the Oxford derby against Radley College, securing a 30-3 victory ahead of their Schools Cup game on Wednesday. Bromsgrove’s Schools Cup preparation was equally impressive as they travelled to RGS High Wycombe and claimed a 43-8 victory.
Elsewhere Oakham, Churcher’s College, and Newcastle-Under-Lyme were all in great form. So too, once again, Tonbridge, who beat King’s Canterbury 58-5 away from home.
Isleworth & Syon once again really stood out as they scored sixty points, while Stamford, St Albans, and Wisbech Grammar were all in fine point scoring form.
Haileybury picked up perhaps their most impressive victory of their remarkable unbeaten season so far as they beat St John’s leatherhead 19-14, while Dean Close also impressed against King’s Worcester. Brighton College were another side with a performance worthy of mention, while on Friday night Kirkham Grammar School again showed their quality with a brilliant 48-17 victory at Harrow to keep them unbeaten.