Perhaps it was just the way we saw it, but this weekend felt like a bit of a gear shift in the schools rugby season.
Maybe it was the weather that did it, but after three weekends highlighted by some dominant performances, the fourth weekend of the season felt as though it was the close games that really took over and brought the headlines.
Of course there were still some dominant performances, there always will be, and when considering our Top 5 we took a look at all differing types of game and result. We are four weeks in, and we are now into that stage of the season where the relative strengths of sides are better known and, with that, each result can be placed in more accurate context.
All in all, what seems clear is that this is both a high quality and highly entertaining season, and that selecting our Top 5 each week is going to be tougher than ever. Here’s this week’s effort though!
Top 5 School Teams of the Weekend
Barnard Castle are one of the most famous names in all of schools rugby but it has been a while since they were punching right at the very top of the game. This year feels different. It started with strong victories over Dame Allan’s and Hymers College. Impressive performances that made us sit up and take not, but within the bounds of the expected. Woodhouse Grove on Saturday were another matter. They have been a strong outfit for a while now and though they had lost two of their opening three games, they were to Sedbergh and St Peter’s, two seriously good sides. It was therefore expected to be a really good contest, a close game, and yet Barnard Castle once again were outstanding. They secured a 24-0 victory, a victory that does not just make people sit and take not, it marks them as a side to watch. Three out of three and yet to concede a point, that is some start to a season.
City of London Freemen’s
It had been a steady enough start to the season fro City of London Freemen’s, two victories and two defeats, and some really good performances in there. However Saturday was supposed to be a different kettle of fish. They hosted a Sevenoaks side that had started the season looking better than any Sevenoaks side for a while, beating Caterham and Reigate Grammar comfortably, scoring nearly 100 points in the process. However City of London Freemen’s were having none of that and in an incredibly tight game they emerged victorious with an 18-11 victory that ought to really fill them with confidence ahead of games against a high performing Aylesbury Grammar side and a Cup tie against one of the big names in schools rugby, John Fisher. An excellent day of rugby from Freemen’s.
It should not come as any surprise to anyone that Kirkham Grammar School are looking outstanding this year, they have been outstanding year on year for some time now, yet it is always impressive. This year they have flown out of the traps, three from three with two dominant victories followed by a show of real grit in a tight one against Sir Thomas Rich’s. On Saturday they travelled to Lancaster RGS, a side with an excellent reputation, and came away with another impressive victory, 43-5. However it was not the victory or the scale of the victory that moves them into this week’s Top 5, it was the resilience. After less than 30 seconds Kirkham were 5-0 down. A lot of sides could have panicked and crumbled, not this group though, they stayed calm, executed their game plan, and stormed to victory. A highly impressive display.
It is a sign of just how good Sherborne have been so far this year that one of the first things we noticed when reviewing the weekend’s school rugby and looking at their brilliant 42-5 victory over Marlborough College was that it was the first time so far this season that Sherborne had conceded a try. How impressive is that, in four games they have conceded one try. They have also scored 158 points. It is not like they have been playing the wrong type of teams either, Bishop Wordsworth’s, Radley College, Marlborough College, and a Cup tie against Downside, these are all teams with strong schools rugby reputations. This Sherborne side is a seriously good outfit. There are big tests yet to come for the men in sky blue but, on the evidence so far, there is nothing to suggest that they will not come sailing through those tests.
Uppingham made our Top 5 a couple of weeks ago after a brilliant performance against a struggling Bedford side. It was one of their best performances in years and we wondered if it might be the sign of a season not just better than in previous years, but a season of genuine promise and achievement. On Saturday we got what looks an awful lot like an answer to that when they hosted the Rutland derby against old rivals Oakham, the school with whom they share a crest and founding headmaster. It has been nine years since they won the derby, nine long years, in that time Oakham have had years as one of the better few sides in the country, for most of that time Uppingham have struggled somewhat. On Saturday they ended that 9 years of hurt with a dogged performance in a really tight game of rugby, showing not just skill but also heart for a 15-13 victory. Yes, this looks like a season of genuine promise and achievement for Uppingham. Carry on like this and the years of the likes of Sedbergh exchanging fixtures with them could yet return.
There were of course plenty of other impressive displays over the weekend, Wellington College continue to look formidable, a 34-15 defeat of Millfield just the latest in a series of notable victories. Whitgift also claimed a big scalp as they repeated their Schools Cup triumph by beating Warwick. Sedbergh too continue to look irrepressible, Denstone College being their latest victim.
Abingdon were impressive to secure a tight victory at Berkhamsted, so too NSB at Campion, while Dulwich College were on song again against Brighton College. Tight victories impressed across the board, Eastbourne College, Gresham’s, Sir Thomas Rich’s, John Fisher, Cheltenham College, and Portsmouth Grammar among them, while in defeat Bishop Wordworth’s impressed in keeping things tight against Seaford College after a tricky few weeks, credit to Seaford though, they continue to impressive march on.
In more dominant terms the likes of Bryanston, Sutton Valence, Bradford Grammar, Felsted, Norwich, and RGS Guildford impressed, so too Ampleforth College, Wirral Grammar, and the ever excellent RGS Newcastle.
Aylesbury Grammar backed up their performance form last week, while St Paul’s and St John’s both claimed notable victories with strong performances. A word too to Royal Hospital, punching high for a good victory over Oundle.