Gallery: Plaudits but no title for St Joseph’s
ST Joseph’s College stretched their unbeaten streak in the National Schools Rugby Festival to 11 games – but it was not enough to retain their prestigious trophy.
The defending champions sailed through the first group stages on Saturday but came unstuck 24 hours later, losing their last two matches and getting knocked out of the De La Salle Cup.
The festival, which brings together the cream of schoolboy rugby across the British Isles and was this year celebrating its 25th anniversary, was won by Dulwich College.
For the home side, who last year won the event for the first time in 15 years, the stiff competition provided a little too strong as they lost their last two matches – 10-5 to Millfield School and then 15-0 to Filton College – to not even make the plate final.
But skipper Gabriel Carroll remained a proud young man as he reflected on his third and final festival appearance.
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Carroll said: “We knew there was going to be no easy game this year and so it proved. Every team pushed us hard and it became a real mental battle, especially near the end of matches.
“We played really well on the Saturday and started Sunday well, but we can have no complaints.
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“I am very proud to have been captain.
“Every single boy tried their best and in my final festival I have been left with memories I will always cherish.”
The first day of the festival could not have gone any better for the home side – prompting acting director of rugby, Robyn James, to describe their performance as “faultless”.
They opened the tournament with a four-try win over John Fisher School before Portsmouth Grammar School were beaten 17-8.
Qualification was sealed with a 12-3 win over Stamford School with Mike Di Ponio and Mike Stanway helping themselves to a hat-trick of tries each in the three group matches.
And they also started the second day well, beating QEGS 3-0 thanks to George Murray’s last-minute kick.
They came undone against old foes Millfield School 10-5, making their final match against Filton College a must-win.
But they faced opposition who boast strong links with Bristol Rugby Club and a 15-0 defeat duly followed.
James, who took charge of the team before a new director of rugby is appointed, paid tribute to the brave showing of the side, who also had to endure a sickness bug that swept through the camp.
He said: “Saturday was a super day of rugby for the team – apart from a few minutes of play, we were faultless.
“It was disappointing not to get to the final but the lads have won 11 consecutive matches over two festivals which is an outstanding achievement.
“They were 100 per cent committed on both days and it was a great chance for the boys to test themselves, especially the ones who want to try and make it professionally.
“And for the younger lads, playing in the festival in front of a big crowd was a good occasion and they didn’t let themselves down.”
Meanwhile, the player of the tournament was awarded to Max Northcote-Green from Millfield while St Joseph’s had something to celebrate after Michael Stanway won the award for the try of the festival, against Portsmouth.
* For more photos from the festival, click on the link above