Our resident experts, Angus Savage and Tom Pulley of Next Gen XV, cast their eye over the best rugby-playing schools in 2023. But who will make the 2024 list?

Talk about the next generation of superstars and we can marvel at rookies in the top pro league and the kids boldly smashing through Tests.

But for this special edition, Rugby World wanted to shine a light on our game’s greatest hothouses: the best rugby schools with incredible programmes for student athletes.

Relate: Watch: Schoolboy’s monster 50:22 kick

So here it is, our top 12 from around the world. Congratulations to the schools who made it. Our ranking, provided by Next Gen XV, will return next year too. The future is indeed bright…

1 Hamilton Boys HS, New Zealand

Perhaps the easiest position to settle on in our top 12, given that in the last seven months Hamilton Boys High School have collected two international titles, the 2023 Sanix World Rugby Youth Invitational – their fourth such title since 2010 – and the 2022 World Schools Festival, where they beat one of the other sides on this list in the final.

Those international titles capped a superb domestic season as well, after winning the Chiefs Regional Championship for the ninth time and finishing as runners-up to Rotorua Boys High in the New Zealand Super 8s.

2023 started in similar vein too, with back-to-back wins to kick the season off.

The North Island school has set a standard that has made the world sit up and take notice, and with the likes of Aki Tuivailala, Caelys-Paul Putoko and Payton Spencer earning New Zealand U18 recognition in 2022, the fruits of that success may start paying off for the All Blacks soon as well.

2 Barker College, Australia

Best rugby schools

Barker College 1st XV v Knox Grammar School 1st XV. (Barker College)

Australian schools’ rugby perhaps doesn’t get the recognition that it should. The work being done across the country is incredibly impressive and perhaps nowhere more so than at Barker College, who lifted the Henry Plume Shield for the 20th time this year, securing the Combined Associated Schools competition in style.

Their Test alumni include Cameron Shepherd and Ben Darwin, who became one of the finest thinkers in the game through his analytics company.

The Barker brand is likely to become ever more familiar to fans in the next few years as their cohort of U18 and U20 talents, recently including Adrian Brown, Ned Slack-Smith, Bryn Edwards, Douglas Phillipson and Oniti Finau, start to make the next steps up the ladder.

3 Paarl Gimnasium, South Africa

Best rugby schools

One of the Paarl Gim students in action. (Louis D van Niekerk)

2022 was a truly stunning year for Paarl Gimnasium, the South African National Championship winners, Western Championship winners and the side ranked No 1 in South Africa by NextGenXV.

They did actually lose a handful of games last season, all by three points or fewer – losing out to Affies, Paul Roos and huge local rivals Paarl Boys (if there is any school game in the world to go to, it’s that one. Just think of 25,000 spectators watching school rugby. Unthinkable in most countries and an astonishing spectacle).

But when it came down to the big moments, Paarl Gim were up to the task and claimed the silverware.

The 2023 season is a couple of months old as you read this and they are off to another strong start, while only the unbeaten Grey College have bettered them at the time of writing.

Matching the superb achievements of their last season would be spectacular, but this is the school that has produced the likes of Handré Pollard, Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers. The possibilities are endless.

4 Grey College, South Africa

Best rugby schools

Grey College are one of the most successful rugby schools. (Grey College)

A strong argument could be made that Grey College are the most famous, and feared, name in schools’ rugby.

They could be at least one place higher in this list, after recently beating Paarl Gim.

The 2022 World Schools Festival Runners-up and Central Championship winners are again setting the standards at the beginning of the 2023 season.

They’re the ultimate rugby factory, with Francois Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Cobus Reinach, the du Plessis brothers, Ruben Kruger and Morne du Plessis among those to have passed through their halls.

5 Millfield, England

Best rugby schools

A Millfield player tries to escape a desperate tackle (Millfield/World Schools Festival)

A sporting behemoth from a sleepy corner of Somerset. Only one name is required to demonstrate that, Sir Gareth Edwards, after whom their 1st XV pitch is named.

Millfield serve their home nation well too, the likes of Matt Perry, Chris Robshaw, Mako Vunipola and Jonathan Joseph among those to earn caps.

As did their director of rugby John Mallett, who this year led the school to a record eighth St Joseph’s Festival title, the first side to win it back-to-back in more than a decade, finishing third at the World Schools Festival and beating the likes of Sedbergh and Wellington College this season.

They have a burgeoning girls’ programme too, and reached the semi-finals at this year’s Rosslyn Park Sevens.

6 Blackrock College, Ireland

Best rugby schools

Blackrock’s Charlie Molony and Mark Walsh celebrate. (INPHO)

If this list was about the best-known teams, Blackrock might well top it.

Revered across the world, the Dublin school’s role in the growth of the Irish national side is well documented.

They won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 2022, beating Gonzaga College in the final, then lost to them this year.

Willingness to compete in cross-border fixtures is what edges it.

Blackrock push hard, losing a heartbreaker to Sedbergh in October, then laying down a marker for Irish schools against Clifton College the next month.

As rugby factories go, they are perhaps Grey’s greatest rivals.

7 Hartpury College, England

Best rugby schools

Hartpury College boasts the likes of Ellis Genge and Louis Rees-Zammit as its alumni (Hartpury College)

Hartpury might not have the history of others on this list, but in a short space of time they have become one of the key rugby schools on the planet.

This season they won the ACE (Academy, Colleges and Education programme) League, as they have on all but two occasions since its inception in 2008.

It secured another unbeaten season, a feat matched by the girls’ side, who won the Association of College’s Women’s Rugby title with a 50-0 victory in the final, before winning the ECRFU Showcase final 60-0.

Jonny May, Ellis Genge, Jonny Hill and Louis Rees-Zammit are just four stars to emerge from this relentless college.

8 Gonzaga College, Ireland

Best rugby schools

Gonzaga’s JP Breslin carries with Tom Wyley.

That Gonzaga are in this rarefied air of the Top 12 Schools Teams in the World tells you what a remarkable season they had.

The rest of this list is a who’s who of giants and, while no minnows themselves, to be competing on that level tells you everything about this group, spearheaded by Ireland U18 International Luke McLaughlin.

Their Cup victory over Blackrock College was their first-ever Senior Cup title and before the year 2019 they had never reached the final.

St Michael’s got the better of them there, Blackrock in 2022, but they got their gong in 2023 and with it they surge into this year’s Top 12 in the world. A super programme.

9 Nudgee College, Australia

Best rugby schools

Nudgee College attract massive crowds to their games. (Nudgee College)

Nudgee College secured Queensland’s premier schools rugby title in 2022, the GPS (Great Public Schools Association of Queensland), for a record 42nd time.

Crowds of up to 10,000 have been seen at the Brisbane school and no wonder.

Some sensational players have passed through their ranks, among them Rocky Elsom, James O’Connor, Sean McMahon and Joe Tomane.

This year has started out pretty well for Nudgee too, winning the Ballymore Cup and beating number the No 2 side in this list, Barker College.

As the 2023 season shakes out, perhaps they may yet climb this list even further.

10 Napier Boys HS, New Zealand

Napier High

Napier Boys High School players perform the haka against Hamilton Boys High School during the National 1st XV Championships. (Getty Images)

Napier Boys’ High might think they deserve a higher place; after all, only two points separated them from the No 1 side on this list in the National Championship.

They might even be right, but every single side on this list, and a good few not even on it, has been performing at exquisite levels.

Napier are no exception, reaching that final after winning the Hurricanes Regional Championship for the fourth time.

They’ve been utterly magnificent. They have been superb for some time too, with the likes of Greg Somerville Brad Weber and Zac Guildford going on to earn international recognition after passing through their portals.

Many European rugby fans will note that Ihaia West is also an old boy.

11 Trinity School, England

Trinity School celebrate against Kirkham. (Trinity School)

2022 was the greatest year Trinity has had.

They claimed a first U18 Schools Cup at Twickenham, reached the St Joseph’s Festival final on debut and were unbeaten all season.

Three players earned England U18 calls and they almost retained the Schools Cup title in 2023 too, losing to Oakham. 

12 CAVC, Wales

Welsh school

CAVC student carries the ball for his school (CAVC)

Cardiff and Vale College’s (CAVC) rugby programme only began in 2016 but its progress has been extraordinary. Their first captain, Ben Thomas, is capped by Wales. In 2022 they won the Welsh Schools and College Cup. And in 2023 they reached the high point, winning the Welsh Schools & College League with a 35-30 defeat of Coleg Sir Gâr in the final.

It was a story of determination in many ways as Sir Gâr had been the only side to defeat CAVC all year and finished within a couple of points of them in the league season. But CAVC would get their revenge in the play-offs, winning that final to claim the title and earn a place in this Top 12.

This article first appeared in the August 2023 edition of Rugby World magazine.

Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on FacebookInstagram and Twitter/X.