Your chance to see a future rugby superstar in Ipswich – the St Joseph’s College festival will be bigger and better this weekend

St Josephs College in action on their way to the title last year. Photo: Su Anderson

St Josephs College in action on their way to the title last year. Photo: Su Anderson - Credit: Archant

There’s only one place that rugby fans in Suffolk should be this weekend.

St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, will be playing host to its 28th rugby festival – and director of sport Mark Patterson believes the nationally famous tournament can be the best yet.

It’s free to attend, you can stand right next to the action and there’s every chance you’ll see a superstar of the future.

The likes of Matt Dawson, Mike Tindall, Sam Warburton, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw and Mako Vunipola have all graced the Belstead Road turf over the years, while several of last year’s victorious St Jo’s team have signed for top-flight English and French clubs.

“It’s arguably the best 15-a-side school tournament in the country,” said Patterson. “We get inundated with requests from schools that want to come and play. And I have to say that this year the line-up is looking very strong.

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“We normally get around 3,000 spectators, but hopefully we can get some more locals through the gate this year. I’m a big believer that you can’t beat seeing something live – whether it be sport or music – and, as a spectacle, this festival is as good as any day out at a Premiership rugby game.

“These lads go out there and really express themselves. The game’s are high intensity, being only 15 minutes each way, and the level of physicality and athleticism is immense – it’s more akin to the professional game these days.”

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St Jo’s have won the festival three times; in 1995, 2010 and, most recently, last year.

Lewis Ludlam followed in the footsteps of England Under-20 international Alex Day and signed for Northampton Saints, while George Wacokecoke went to Bath, Dan Lewis was snapped up by Oyonnax and Karl Wilkins moved to Heineken Cup winners Clermont Auvergne.

“It’s virtually impossible to replace the number of superstars who were with us from last year,” said Patterson. “I’d say, looking back, that was the best side St Jo’s has ever had in its history. They weren’t just great rugby players, but a fantastic set of kids too.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult to do something as special as we did last year. We’ve still got a very competitive squad though and the target is just to get into the Cup competition for the second day and then see what happens from there.

“You can’t underestimate how big an impact and how big a legacy last year’s team has had on the sporting culture at this college. They have set the bar now and everyone is striving to reach those levels.”

This is Joel Unsworth’s first festival as head of rugby at St Jo’s. The former England Under-19 captain, who decided not to pursue a playing career due to his passion for coaching, is still only 28.

“I got this job in February and the festival was immediately a challenge I looked forward to,” he said.

“I went to a few of the games here last year and there were some outstanding individuals and teams.

“It will be different for us this year because we’ve seen some of those star players move on.

“However, we’ve still got a fantastic team spirit and the lads have really gelled.

“We’ve had a couple of impressive results already this year and we really want to build on that. There aren’t the same levels of expectation as last year, but this group is still optimistic and ambitious.

“The game has moved on so much, even from when I was playing. The conditioning and skill set is much superior to when I came through the system.”

The action takes place from 9am to 5pm tomorrow and 8.45am to 3.45pm on Sunday.

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