31 March 2006
QEGS Wakefield Under 15s will be hoping to pick up some useful tips from one of the game's most respected figures as they prepare for Wednesday's Daily Mail Cup Under 15 final against Bedford School at Twickenham.
The Yorkshire lads will be calling in on British Lions, Scotland and now Wasps coach Ian McGeechan en route to their London base on Tuesday and spending time with the London Wasps squad.
"I played with Ian when we were both at Headingley and when we were last at Twickenham with an Under 15 side in 1998, we called in at Northampton, where he was coaching then," says Coach Gary Pickersgill. "It breaks the journey up for the lads and gives them something special to enjoy as part of the build-up."
The experience that McGeechan can offer the squad in just a few minutes will doubtless be an inspiration, although even at their tender years, they already have experience of the big stage which should also stand them in good stead on Wednesday.
"A lot of the lads were at Twickenham in the Gullivers Under 14 tournament finals, when they beat Bournemouth with a try from their own line by centre Andrew Forsyth in the last minute, so they know what it's all about and have experience of winning a tight game there.
"All you want is for the lads to play to their capabilities on the day. They know that if they do that, it will take a very good team to beat them.
"Obviously there are great expectations of them from outside, but nowhere is the pressure greater than from within. They have high expectations of themselves and they want to do well. They are a closely-knit group of friends and the team spirit is outstanding."
When QEGS last called on McGeechan, they went on the share the Daily Mail Under 15 Cup with RGS High Wycombe when the best final of the Daily Mail Schools Festival ended in a 5-5 draw, second-row forward Robert Cooke driving over from a couple of yards to cement a particularly defiant display by the Yorkshire boys.
Not that QEGS can afford to take Bedford lightly. No 8 James Ingle and left-wing Rory Charlesworth are just a couple of the players to note in a nicely rounded team which contains a number of talented footballers.
The Wakefield boys, however, go into the game at full strength and in positive mood. They also travel with a message of good luck from an �old boy' who has been down the Daily Mail path to Twickenham and gone on to better things - Gloucester and England centre Mike Tindall.
"Every appearance at Twickenham is a massive thrill and I'll always remember my Daily Mail Under 18 Cup finals with QEGS, even though we were beaten." he said. "The experience of the run in the competition and the build-up to the final was great and I know that the Under 15s will bring home memories that will last a lifetime.
"Like everyone at the school, I hope that they can produce their best on the day, and above all, enjoy themselves.
"The Daily Mail final was a milestone in my career and I'm sure it will be an occasion none of them will ever forget. I wish them every success."
Trip to the beach helps Durham to focus
Durham School coach Paul Gerrard has been in the hunt for Daily Mail Schools Cup success for long enough to know that the only message worth bothering with is the need for the team to deliver its best form on the day.
"When we were at Twickenham in 2001 and went down 18-0 to Campion, we under-performed," says Gerrard. "We didn't play as well as we could and that was disappointing. We have got to concentrate on delivering on the day what we are capable of.
"I know we'll give 100 per cent effort - that's not in question. But what we have to do is have the right direction, make the right decisions, do the right things in the right areas.
"That's the message from our previous visit. We have to focus on what we do. We won't be worrying about St Peter's. We've seen them in action in the semis and they are a very good side - good forwards, fast backs and good organisation.
"But we're not an international side that can look at the opposition and think about adapting our game. We know what we can do and the qualities that have got us this far and that is what we want to produce in the final."
If focusing minds is the challenge facing Gerrard, he has an interesting way of achieving his objective. An early morning session on the beach was the sort of preparation once favoured by Grand National hero Red Rum and trainer Ginger McCain, but for Gerrard's charges Southport was replaced by South Shields and a bracing early morning session this week.
"I was a bit concerned after I had set it up that the weather might be awful, but we got away with it and had a really good run out," says Gerrard. "We were more traditional the following day wwhen we had a session at Newcastle Falcons with two of their Academy coaches, John Fletcher and Ian Peel.
"It was also good for the lads to have a couple of old boys - Geoff Parling and Jason Smithson - on hand and taking an interest. Jason was in the 2001 team and I'm sure it gives the lads a boost to see former players showing an interest."
The only downside to the preparations has been the loss of prop Craig Hooper with a damaged hamstring suffered in training.
"He's devastated as this would have been his last game before leaving the school and we're all bitterly disappointed for him," says Gerrard, who has endured a few Daily Mail disappointments in his time. "It would be nice to win it at last after trying hard for so long."
Academic focus may be boon for Lymm
Lymm High School have been so much involved with A level priorities in the last week or so that there has scarcely been time to think about Wednesday's Daily Mail Schools Under 18 Vase final against London Leisure College.
"I think that has been a real bonus for us," says Master in Charge Len Davies. "Academic success is very important to the school and our students. Having these academic issue to concentrate on will have taken their minds off a very important rugby match and that can be a very good thing in the long term.
"From a playing perspective, we're going into the game in confident mood, but we're not over-confident because we know that we haven't played to our best in either the quarter final or the semis.
"We want to go out and show that we can play some decent rugby and hopefully the wide open spaces of Twickenham will provide us with the opportunity to do that."
"Player-wise, we're missing centre Tom Hulme, who damaged his knee in the quarter-final and needs surgery, which is a real shame for one of our solid, dependable operators. But on the credit we have two wingmen back after long lay-offs in the shape of Tom Robinson and Ian Rogers. That means that Luke Johnson, who did so well in the last couple of rounds, moves to the bench, but I'm sure he'll be making a contribution for us.
"Apart from the academic focus, we're still not completely rid of the illness that has been with us for a while now, so we haven't had a training session with a full squad. Hopefully we can do something about that when we travel down on Monday."
One things Lymm can rely on - they'll be well supported.
"We have 18 coaches and 900 people making the trip, so we should get a good cheer.
"It would be nice if the Northern trio of teams could pull off a hat trick. I've worked with Paul Gerrard and John Cholewa from QEGS with the North Schools Under 18 team when I was manager and they were coaching. Three wins for three mates would be very acceptable."
Finals day line-up
Daily Mail Under-15 Vase final: Langley Park v John Cleveland College (11am)
Daily Mail Under-15 Cup final: Bedford v QEGS Wakefield (12.15pm)
Daily Mail Under-18 Vase final: London Leisure College v Lymm HS (2pm)
Daily Mail Under-18 Cup final: Durham v St Peter's VI Form Centre, Gloucester (3.30pm)