The St Joseph's College National Schools Rugby Festival was started in 1986 to commemorate the school’s Golden Jubilee. Schools invited to take part come from both the state and independent sectors.
The Festival has had no shortage of top quality players gracing the turf; some went professional, others not, some have long since retired, while others are just at the start of a life in rugby.
We thought it might be fun to look back at some of those players who shone as schools’ stars at the Festival and who have gone on to a successful career in the professional game.
Millfield has had a number of star players show off their skills at the Festival, from former England captain Chris Robshaw, to Anthony Allen and Mako Vunipola, a British and Irish Lion, no less. Former England full back Olly Morgan won Player of the Tournament award in 2003, while England and Bath star Jonathan Joseph won it in 2008. Having won the tournament six times, it should be no surprise that they have a number of top-level professional old boys.
More recently, Millfield has had a number of players breaking through to the edge of their professional 1st XVs: the likes of Tom Ellis at Bath, Callum Sheedy at Bristol, Try of the Tournament winner Tom Whiteley at Saracens, and 2011 Player of the Tournament Max Northcote-Green at London Irish.
RGS Newcastle has also had its fair share of top players pass through the ranks, including Tom Penny, currently at Newcastle Falcons.
St Peter’s, Gloucester has been in attendance at the Festival for a long time, and has provided some top class players too. England winger Charlie Sharples starred in 2006, with Worcester Warriors fly half Ryan Lamb a star at the Festival two years later, while Marcel Garvey, now playing in France, was another back who impressed at the Festival and has gone on to a sterling professional career.
Denstone College saw winger Levi Davis star for England U18, along with second row Sam Lewis, who is now with Leicester Tigers.
Brighton College's alumni include Harlequins’ number 8 James Chisholm, who was the U20 World Player of the Year in 2014, as well as his Harlequins’ teammate Jordan Turner-Hall. Turner-Hall returned to the tournament as a coach in 2017 following his retirement
from professional rugby, bringing Hurstpierpoint College to its first Festival. Ollie Phillips also played at the Festival and went on to play for Newcastle Falcons, Stade Francais and Gloucester, as well as captaining England 7s and being voted World 7s Player of the Year in 2009.
RGS High Wycombe has produced a hatful of top players to grace this wonderful tournament. Wasps’ winger Christian Wade played in three tournaments from 2006-2008, winning Try of the Tournament in 2007. Tom Rees was once forecast to captain England before injury cut his Wasps’ career short. More tragic was the terrible news of Nick Duncombe’s death at the age of 23. The scrum half had been tipped for greatness, and won Player of the Tournament in 1999. He is not the only scrum half on the RGS production line - England World Cup winner and British and Irish Lions series winner Matt Dawson was also a star for RGS at the Festival.
The tournament has not only seen players go on to honours in the British Isles. RGS High Wycombe’s Tomasso Allen has since gone on to play for Italy after starring for the school from 2009-2011 at the Festival.
A number of future Scotland internationals have graced the Festival turf for Merchiston Castle School, including Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Fraser Brown, while Magnus Bradbury is making great strides at Edinburgh. Zach Mercer claimed the Player of the Tournament award in 2014, before going on to help England to the World Rugby U20 Championship in June 2016. Merchiston Castle is far from the only side from outside England to take part in the Festival. Others have included Ireland’s Blackrock College and Wales’ Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf, for whom Jamie Roberts turned out.
Dulwich College won the De La Salle Cup back in 2011, the school’s first trophy on a remarkable run that saw it win three Schools Cups in a row. Josh Ibuanokpe, Beno Obano, and Tommy O’Flaherty have gone on from that side to have professional honours with Harlequins, Bath, and the Ospreys respectively. From previous sides, Sam Twomey and Tim Swiel progressed to excellent careers with Harlequins.
QEGS Wakefield has one of the great records in schools’ rugby, and the players who have passed through its ranks reflect that. Top of the pile is Mike Tindall, the former England centre and World Cup winner. Tindall represented QEGS from 1995-97, and when he left Ben Woods became the talisman, with the flanker going on to a sterling career at Leicester Tigers. Six QEGS old boys are currently still actively playing, including Newcastle Falcons’ Andrew Forsyth.
St Joseph’s College has also had a huge number of players go on to professional careers - yet for all, the Festival will remain one of their great rugby experiences. The College’s most
recent success in the Festival came in 2013, and five players from that side are now in professional rugby. Cameron Ives is currently at London Scottish, with Ethan Waddleton part of the England 7s squad, while Tom Emery joined Northampton Saints this summer. Joint Players of the Tournament that year were Dan Lewis and Lewis Ludlam. Lewis is currently at Bedford with Lewis Ludlam at Northampton Saints. Ludlam also helped England U20 to the final of the 2015 World Rugby U20 Championships.
St Joseph’s also had success in 2010. Alex Day captained that side and won Player of the Tournament, and went on to success with England U20 and Northampton Saints.
Of course, the Festival has seen different schools come and go, the likes of Colston’s, Sedbergh, Bromsgrove and Stamford have been part of previous sides and have had some tremendous players grace the turf.
Perhaps the most notable at the time was Bromsgrove’s Andy Goode, who won Player of the Tournament in 1997 before going on to great success with Leicester Tigers, Saracens, Wasps, Newcastle Falcons, Worcester Warriors and England. James Simpson-Daniel starred for Sedbegh at the turn of the century.
There have been others too, including a Colston’s contingent that included the likes of Jordan Crane, Tom Varndell, Lee Mears, and Olly Barkley. At one stage or another, the likes of Wellington College, Oakham, and Campion have all entered, all of course winners of the Schools Cup, and fielded, among others, James Haskell, Tom Croft, and Tony Diprose.
The list of players to have played at the Festival is truly astonishing, and this year we can expect another group of young and talented players to take to the field. In another 30 years it might be their names that adorn these pages and grace our television screens as stars of the rugby world.
by Angus Savage
Lewis Ludlam & Dan Lewis interview 2013