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EDF Energy National Trophy South East preview

05 December 2006

December 5

Unbeaten Esher are expected to hand a first team debut to Marcus Ripley in their EDF Energy National Trophy clash with Redruth.

Marcus, the son of former England No.8 Andy Ripley, has impressed at lock for Esher's second team and in the Guinness A League for London Irish this season.

And he will be involved against the Reds on Saturday as Esher attempt to extend their stunning start to the season that has seen them top National League Two with 13 straight wins.

Esher have already beaten Redruth away from home and now take on the Cornishmen in cup and league over successive weekends at Molesey Road.

"He gives 100 per cent on every occasion, whether it's in matches or training, and always has a smile on his face and a tremendous attitude," said Esher's rugby director Mike Schmid.

"He's still learning the position in the second row and getting better every week. We've been trying to get him some extra senior experience with London Irish and I'm sure he'll be a regular part of the team in the future."

Esher faded towards the end of last season - their first under Schmid - to finish third in the league, but the same squad with a handful of new faces has come through every test so far this time round.

The recruits include wing Richard Briggs (Newbury), flanker Alex Mockford (Bristol) and lock Emanuel Agapakabo (Saracens), while centre Bevon Armitage, the brother of London Irish pair Delon and Steffon, joined from junior Devon club Brixham.

"Last season we maybe overachieved for a while and that we did so well was a testament to the quality of the guys, but it took a while to learn the patterns we wanted to play and now we're benefiting from that experience," added Schmid.

"The big improvement is in competition for places. The boys push themselves very hard on the training paddock and they know they have to keep on top of it to hang onto the shirt because there are a lot of young kids and experienced boys in our other teams who are after their places."

One close-season masterstroke, though, was in persuading Matt Moore to come out of retirement after he tried to hang up his boots.

The former Harlequins and Sale wing, who went on England's 'Tour To Hell' in 1998, scored 24 tries last season and has touched down 13 times already this term.

"I think he realised he might have been a bit premature in retiring," said Schmid. "He's only 30, he's got lots to give to the team and he's still got a lot of gas in the tank."

Elsewhere, East Anglia's two leading sides both have home ties as they bid to reach the fourth round.

Cambridge, in their first season in National Two, should progress at the expense of Bedford Athletic and North Walsham face Stourbridge after thumping Westcombe Park 75-15 in the last round.

Blackheath have a difficult trip to Bridgwater in Somerset and Barking will try to ease the pain of an unhappy league campaign with a win over 2005 Intermediate Cup finalists Westoe, who make a long trip from South Shields.

Rosslyn Park, who squeezed through against Devon minnows Exmouth in the last round, will have home advantage against Luctonians from Herefordshire.

Canterbury scrapped their way to 26-16 win over St Ives in the previous round and coach Danny Vaughan will give his up and coming players another chance to impress against Wharfedale.

The Yorkshire side play in National Two - a level above Canterbury - and will fly in to Gatwick on the day of the game.

"Our league form has been good and I'd like to keep the ball rolling with a mixture of younger and more experienced players," said Kent coach Vaughan.

Teenage prop Jamie Freeman, who made his debut against St Ives, is in line for a recall with Zoltan Heckel also set for a front-row spot.

Also likely to feature in Vaughan's squad are Ben Smith, a flanker who joined the club from junior rugby at Whitstable, and consistent second team back-rower Mal Cullen.

EDF Energy National Trophy, third round fixtures: Barking v Westoe, Bradford & Bingley v Harrogate, Bridgwater & Albion v Blackheath, Cambridge v Bedford Athletic, Canterbury v Wharfedale, Clifton v Darlington, Dings Crusaders v Macclesfield, Esher v Redruth, Halifax v Beverley, Havant v Henley, Launceston v Manchester, Lydney v Old Patesians, North Walsham v Stourbridge, Nuneaton v Blaydon, Rosslyn Park v Luctonians, Tynedale v West Park St Helens.

EDF Energy National Trophy, play-by dates

Round 4 - January 20, Round 5 - February 10, Quarter-finals - March 3, Semi-finals - March 24, Twickenham final - April 15

Ends