On18 of October the 1st XV travelled up to Ipswich for the prestigious St Joseph’s College Rugby Festival. We had a young side with just a few members of the Upper Sixth coming and two Year 11 students joining us for weekend but we went there knowing we were very capable of putting in some great performances against some of the best schools in the country. Our group consisted of Royal Grammar School Newcastle last year’s Cup winners, the home side St Joseph’s College and Royal Grammar School High Wycombe. We started on Saturday morning against RGS Newcastle, a hugely physical side, and in the first half began very strongly. We pinned them back in their 22 for the majority of the half and we were leading 3-0 up until the last play of the half when a driving maul got them over in the corner making it 5-3 at half time. We began sluggishly in the second half conceding a try out wide. We attacked with great intensity and had great opportunities to take back the lead but our mistakes ultimately cost us as we went on to lose the game.
In the second game against High Wycombe we again started very quickly dominating the contact against a larger side and getting over the gain line. We went on to score through the centre after a great line from Connor Moyes, taking us 7-0 up at half time. In the second half we spent the first five minutes camped in there 22 as they defended for their lives, as they were a man down after receiving a yellow card. It was here that a lack of composure and poor game management meant we left without any further points on the board. It was this inexperience that cost us the game, as they drove forward with big forwards scoring a well worked try before again scoring in the last play of the game. We were all gutted that we had ended up losing having been in such a strong position for 80% of the game. It highlighted to us the brutal nature of the tournament in which you have to take your chances or you will be punished.
The final game of the Saturday was against the home side St Joseph’s, who always have a loud crowd to watch them. The team chop tackled brilliantly and fronted up against an aggressive forward pack but went in at half time behind on the score board. Unfazed they came out hungry in the second half and within the first five minutes had silenced the crowd with one well worked try and then an interception from James Roberts. It was tight right up until the end, with everyone putting their body on the line in both attack and defence. And despite ultimately losing the game it was a performance to be proud of, particularly for those players who hadn’t experienced much 1st XV rugby before.
We started the second day struggling with injuries, with our three first choice 10’s injured or unavailable we put together a makeshift back line with our battered forward pack. But we were all keen to give it everything we had for the final three matches in a challenging Plate group. We were up against Dulwich College, Millfield and St Peter’s York School, all very strong sides.
Early on the Sunday at 8:30am we kicked off against Dulwich College. We began the game slowly and were on the back foot, conceding a try and going down to 14 men. But we fought back into the game dominating possession and field position late into the first half. As our frustration grew so did the frequency of our mistakes, throwing difficult offloads and dropping chances. We managed lots of line breaks in the second half but we weren’t able to capitalise on our dominance, only scoring one try. As Dulwich came back harder we fought well in defence before conceding from a counter attack late on. After the game we were all hugely frustrated as we felt the score didn’t reflect the level of ability we had in the squad. Something we were keen to rectify.
But as the day wore on and bodies became sorer this became increasingly difficult to do. Captain, Frankie Nella was excellent in motivating and refocusing us, leading by example both on and off the field. The next game was St Peter’s York, another tough side to face with such a depleted squad. Many of the team were by now playing in positions unfamiliar to them but the effort from the boys was fantastic. St Peter’s York were able to spread the ball wide well and managed to score two good tries in the corner. We had to work extremely hard to get field position and were struggling to get the go forward we needed. As a result, we had to go for penalties, kicking a couple over the post.
We were now down to the bare bones in the squad with just 16 semi-fit players left to play against arguably our toughest opponents, Millfield. They were a great rugby playing side spreading the ball out wide with class and taking every opportunity they got. At the end of the match we were all very disappointed with the score line and how we defended but recognised it was a massive learning experience for us as a team against the country’s strongest schools.
The weekend was a positive one as it showed we can compete against the best but at points just lacked that killer instinct or composure needed to get the wins. It is a young side and we hope that when Eltham returns next year we will have that experience to make the tournament more of a success. There were definitely moments and periods where we showed just how good of a side we can be.