December 9, 2008
Kendal hopes of progressing to Round Four of the EDF Energy Trophy when they visit Blackheath on Saturday (December 13) could hinge as much on the selection policy of Harvey Biljon, Director of Coaching at the Rectory Field, as on the performance on the day of the Cumbrians.
The men from Mint Bridge will need to raise their game a level in the normal scheme of things, but Blackheath are seeking to spread their resources to cover a double-header programme and are keen to put on a show in a game against a Wasps A team which follows the Trophy tie.
"We will give every respect to Kendal, who are mid-table in their division, and we expect a really competitive game," said Biljon. "The players who have been on the bench for the first team recently will step up and it gives them the chance to show me what they've got.
"At the same time the match against Wasps is a prestigious fixture for us and we'll put out a strong side of mainly first team players. We have some of the Wasps players on loan at Blackheath and there is always a debate whether it is better for them to be playing National Two rugby or just their A-league matches. This is the opportunity to judge the relative merits."
The prospect of being a curtain-raiser to a local derby will doubtless give Kendal added impetus and Biljon, a very shrewd England Counties XV coach, will need to get his sums just right to avoid a red face.
With Caldy sitting nicely at the head of affairs in National Three North and Hull Ionians down in eleventh place in the same division, the Humberside club's trip to the other end of the M62 looks a forlorn hope at first glance.
But Lady Luck has not been kind to the Wirral side. They were denied a league encounter with Harrogate because of fog, has a number of players hit by a virus ahead of their game at Macclesfield and not only suffered the second defeat of the season at Priory Park, but also lost the services of three senior players.
Jake Lyon, Jon Sewell and Sam Dickinson will all be absent from the line-up to face Ionians as the Caldy squad is put to the test.
Not only do the underdogs have those bonuses to increase their confidence, but they can also draw on the knowledge that no matter what the current league placings are at the moment, when the pair last met at Caldy earlier in the season, Ionians went down by a point in a 20-19 cloiffhanger.
Macclesfield will travel to Blaydon with morale in good shape after that victory, but they need to raise their game to overcome the concession of ground advantage to a team from a slot above them in the pecking order.
A recent 38-10 defeat at Polson Bridge in the league and a hefty injury list puts Wharfedale firmly in the underdogs slot when they entertain Launceston, but The Avenue is a celebrated venue for form upsets and the Greens will be hoping that they can rekindle another on Saturday.
Wharfedale's National Division Two neighbours Waterloo are also facing an uphill challenge when they entertain Cinderford, who are significantly better placed in the table than their Merseyside rivals.
Having already lost 46-5 at home to the Gloucestershire side in the league, Waterloo, who have only one league win to their credit, face a massive task if they are to upset the odds.
The task facing the two Northern clubs against their opponents from the South West, however, is as nothing compared to the challenge facing Wadebridge Camels, who travel to the North East for their tie with Tynedale at Corbridge.
Usually the seeding process in the competition helps to avoid serious miss-matches, but this pairing makes the battle between David and Goliath seem a fair match. The Northumbrians are currently fifth in National Two, Level Three, which leaves Wadebridge, from Tribute Western Counties West, Level Seven, with easily the biggest test facing any of the clubs still in the competition.
For Tynedale, of course, getting back to rugby will be a welcome return to normality at the end of a very sad week. The sudden death of Ali Johnson, who the club has supported so manfully since he was paralysed with a neck injury in 2004, cast a massive cloud over Tynedale Park and a simple win and progress to Round Four will doubtless be as much as anyone is hoping for.
Both Broadstreet and Westoe, who meet at Ivor Preece Field, go into the game on the back up form-book upsets in the previous round.
Level Five club Westoe, from South Shields, produced a power-packed display to account for Loughborough Students 29-3 in the previous round and underline that their form at the top of North One, where they have been beaten only once in 11 starts, makes them strong promotion candidates.
With Kiwi fly-half Sam Rasch topping the 100-point mark with his kicking, Willy Moala proving a potent force on the wing with 13 league tries and the team's defence a key feature, the Tynesiders will travel to the Midlands with plenty of confidence.
But then so did Huddersfield in the previous round, but they lost their way at Broadstreet. Both clubs are from Level five in the pecking order and it will be interesting to see how the relative merits of Midlands One and North One compare.
Strangely, the only league defeat suffered by Westoe this season has come at Hull, who hammered them 63-8 and top the division with a scoring ratio of 407 For and 99 Against. The Humbersiders' credentials for a step up will be examined when they visit Preston Grasshoppers, who operate in National Three North, where Hull will be playing next season if they can maintain current form.
The Humbersider's travel with plenty of optimism. In the last round they came away from National Level Three North club Nuneaton with a 22-16 win and will be confident that they can repeat the process.
EDF Energy National Trophy Round Three: Birmingham & Solihull v Redruth, Blackheath v Kendal, Blaydon v Macclesfield, Broadstreet v Westoe, Caldy v Hull Ionians, Cambridge v Canterbury, Barnstaple v Southend, Dings Crusaders v Westcombe Park, Henley v Stourbridge, London Scottish v Basingstoke, Mounts Bay v Barking, Preston Grasshoppers v Hull, Rugby Lions v Bridgwater & Albion, Tynedale v Wadebridge Camels, Waterloo v Cinderford, Wharfedale v Launceston.