The draw for the 2017 St Joseph’s Festival, taking place on Saturday 21st October and Sunday 22nd October has been made.
Sixteen teams will meet at St Joseph’s College in Ipswich for the 31st edition of this top-level school competition.
Last year’s tournament was won by Cranleigh in dramatic fashion. The final, against Brighton College, ended 10-10 but Cranleigh took the title by virtue of having scored the first try in the game.
It was surely one of the most dramatic and exciting finishes in the tournament’s 30-year history, however, unfortunately, Cranleigh will not be there this year has left the tournament after their two-year stint.
Also dropping out after a short stint is Gordons School, but those two losses should not be mistaken as the tournament losing its edge, far from it, as Hurstpierpoint College enter the tournament and Portsmouth Grammar School re-enter after a short absence.
The sixteen teams are placed into four groups of four initially. These groups will be played on the first day of the Festival, Saturday 21st October. The top two sides in each group will progress to two Cup groups for the second day, Sunday 22nd October. The winners of those two groups meet in the Cup Final on Sunday evening.
The bottom two in each of the Day 1 Groups follow a similar format, but join two Plate Groups, with the winners of those two Groups meeting in the Plate final, just before the Cup final. A full breakdown of the groups can be seen at the foot of this article.
In Cranleigh’s absence, Brighton College is the number 1 seeds having been runners-up last year, and will surely be one of the favourites this year. They are drawn in a testing Group A, where they face arguably the strongest school in Scotland, Merchiston Castle, John Fisher, who is one of the tournaments top performers historically, and the fast-rising Eltham College.
Over in Group B RGS High Wycombe, are the top seeds but will come under huge pressure from Dulwich College, who have been performing outstandingly well this season, narrowly beating Brighton College last weekend. Joining them are RGS Newcastle, a side that always performs well, and Welsh side Whitchurch High School, the former school of two times British and Irish Lions captain, Sam Warburton.
2014 champions Millfield are the Group C top seeds but they have a fiendishly tough group. Joining them are the 2015 champions and last year’s Plate winners, Hampton, as well as one of the most prestigious names in schools rugby, QEGS Wakefield, and Hurstpierpoint College, who are enjoying a superb season to date, including a historic win over Brighton.
The hosts, St Joseph’s College, who won this tournament back in 2013 amidst scenes of huge passion, are the headline act in Group D. Joining them are a Denstone College side that are enjoying a fine season so far, as well as former Schools Cup champions St Peter’s Gloucester, and the returning Portsmouth Grammar School, who will doubtless be keen to make their mark.
As always, it looks like an incredibly strong field, but more than that the St Joseph’s Festival is about fast and exciting play and hugely passionate players and supporters alike. It truly is one of the most special weekends on the calendar.