Big crowds devour rugby feast

WORLD CUP finalist Peter Richards returned to Suffolk on Sunday to watch the very same junior tournament which helped kick-start his glittering rugby career as a teenager.

Stuart Watson

WORLD CUP finalist Peter Richards returned to Suffolk on Sunday to watch the very same junior tournament which helped kick-start his glittering rugby career as a teenager.

In 1993 a 15-year-old Richards represented Suffolk's Royal Hospital School in the Ipswich-based St Joseph's College National Schools Rugby Festival.

And while his Holbrook-based side may have lost every game on that occasion, the 30-year-old admits that the experience of playing against the cream of the country's school rugby sides provided a moment of realisation that he could make it as a player.

He said: “At that age you play a regional circuit all year and it was only when you come to a tournament of a national standard like this that you realise just how good, or indeed bad, you really are.

“I was only 15 at the time and I realised that I had a long way to go to get to where I wanted to be.”

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At that stage, Richards admits that a career in rugby had never crossed his mind, however, two years later Rugby Union turned professional and a year after that he had signed for London Irish as an 18-year-old.

A fantastic career has followed, the highlight of which saw the versatile back come on as a replacement in England's World Cup Final defeat to South Africa last year.

Richards knows how privileged he has been and found the time to make a nostalgic return to the county he spent the best part of his teenage years growing up in on Sunday to present the winners of the St Joseph's College National Schools Rugby festival with the De La Salle Trophy.

The tournament - which puts aside school status to pitch 16 of the best rugby sides from across the country head-to-head - is now in its 22nd year and has traditionally given Suffolk rugby fans an early glimpse of future international players.

As well as Richards, England stars Olly Barkley, Matt Dawson and Mike Tindall have all played at the St Joseph's event, which this year was sponsored by Online Roadways.

“It's a shame we can't have more tournaments like this,” said Richards. “It's good for young players to see themselves in a national table. The Daily Mail Cup does that, but there's not much else.

“You can play 10 years of school rugby and not have anything to show for it in terms of trophies and they are what spur people on.”

St Joseph's College's principal Sian Grant said: “This event just gets bigger and better every year. Every year I think the standard can't get any better but what I have seen this weekend has been outstanding.”

Graham Richards, the college's director of rugby, said: “It's important that this is not just an independent schools tournament. It's about getting the best rugby sides together whether they be grammar, comprehensive or FE colleges.”

After St Joseph's College won two of their six games, 17-year-old captain Josh Todd said: “This is the third time I have played in this tournament and it has always been a dream to captain the side.

“You always have to step it up when you're playing against such good sides and it's great to play in front of such a big crowd.”

Bristol's Filton College kicked a late penalty to beat favourites Millfield in the Trophy final, while Bridgend beat St Peter's in the Plate final.

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