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EDF Energy National Trophy News from the Midlands

05 December 2006

Neil Mitchell, Stourbridge's director of rugby, will be wary of a backlash from North Walsham when his side makes the long trip to Norfolk for their EDF Energy National Trophy third round tie on Saturday December 9.
The sides met in what is now the EDF Energy Cup two seasons ago and North Walsham produced an upset when they defeated their higher-ranked hosts 21-11 at Stourton park in the second round. But North Walsham's celebrations proved short-lived as they were disqualified for fielding an unregistered player and Stourbridge were re-instated, which gave them a lucrative home tie against Midlands rivals Coventry.
"There are quite a few North Walsham players who will remember what happened two years ago and they probably still feel aggrieved that they went out of the competition on administrative error after they had beaten us on the pitch," said former Moseley and Coventry lock Mitchell. "We are bracing ourselves for the backlash."
Promotion to National One remains Mitchell's priority this season but he would like to have a long run in the EDF National Trophy to fill in some of the blanks in the fixture list that Stourbridge have coming up after Christmas. He would also welcome the opportunity to face National One opposition in future rounds, provided of course that they can overcome North Walsham.
"This is a tricky trip for us," Mitchell said. "It's a five hour journey each way which poses it's own difficulties. We will be making the journey there and back in the day, but our away form has been pretty good over the last three seasons.
"We know a bit about North Walsham from our meeting two years ago and I've also had a report on them this season. They seem to have a strong pack, they score a lot of tries through their forwards and so I'm not expecting it to be a fast, open game.
"Although the league is our priority this season I would enjoy a decent run in the Trophy. Obviously, it gives us a chance to test ourselves against National One sides if we win at North Walsham and get the right draw.
"But, with the way the fixtures are this season, there are quite a few gaps coming up in the New Year and I would like to keep my players active."
Mitchell is likely to resist the temptation to make two many changes for the long trek to Norwich Road but Alex White is likely to be given a run at centre in place of injured North Midlands county player mark Eastwood.
Chris Rowley, a former Stoke and Midlands Under-18 scrum-half, is also likely to start with Tom Richardson, a summer recruit from Nottingham, switching to fly-half. Mitchell has had problems filling the number 10 shirt since England Under-21 international Sam Robinson was ruled out with a broken jaw and knee ligament problems three weeks ago.
Stourbridge had hoped to sign Australia seven international Rod Petty on loan from Pertemps Bees but he was recalled before the paperwork was completed when Gloucester called Brad Davies back from a similar arrangement with the Bees.
Midlands One club Luctonians are also on their travels on Saturday, with a trip to London to play Rosslyn Park at Roehampton.
Park, who were beaten finalists in what is now the EDF Energy Cup in 1975 and 1976, are one of the fallen giants of the game but the third round tie is the the biggest in the history of Luctonians, who are based in the Herefordshire village of Kingsland.
"It's a pity it's not at home because we would have got a big crowd for the visit of a club like Rosslyn Park," said Simon Green-Price, Luctonians' director of rugby.
"But they are still one of the most famous clubs in the country and this is probably the most prestigious game in our history.
"It's also the first time that we have played a game in London so it will be a big day out for us."
Luctonians are captained by hooker Stuart Bemand, the younger brother of Leicester Tigers scrum-half Scott, who began his career at Mortimer Park. A third Bemand brother, Joff, is also in the Luctonians' first team squad.
Bedford Athletic, Luctonians' league rivals, face a shorter trip to Cambridge of National Two while Nuneaton are the only one of the four Midlands clubs involved in the third round who have home advantage. They entertain Blaydon, a division below them in National Three North, at Liberty Way. Blaydon reached the fifth round of the Trophy last season, beating Waterloo in the process, before they were edged out by eventual semi-finalists Nottingham.