- Yorkshire launch a three-pronged assault on Twickenham
- Ilkley, Wath upon Dearne and Baildon supporters relish Twickenham adventure
Yorkshire rugby union will launch a three-pronged assault on Twickenham on Saturday (May 5, 2012) when Ilkley, Wath upon Dearne and Baildon will be looking for a White Rose hat trick in the finals of the RFU National Knockout competitions.
West Yorkshire RFU Community Coaching trio Neil Spence, David Duxbury and Kris Stafford are no strangers to Twickenham Stadium because of their ‘day job’, but on Saturday they will be visiting the famous arena as players and coaches involved in the action.
For Spence and Stafford, Ilkley’s RFU Intermediate Cup final against East Grinstead is the vehicle which is taking them to headquarters on this occasion and providing them with the thrill that still sets the pulse racing no matter how often players taste the experience.
For Stafford, this will be his fourth trip with a rugby team, although he previous visits have been in a coaching capacity with Leeds Met University Women in BUCS finals. Two defeats against UWIC and a win over Exeter leave him looking for a win on his fourth visit to balance the ledger, but it is the fact that he will be playing that takes the excitement to a new level.
"One of the girls said to me on our first trip that I looked as though all my Christmases had come at once when I walked out onto the pitch and since I never thought I would get the chance to play there, she was right – it was a career highlight,” said the former Stockton RUFC lock.
"Going as a player will definitely be a different experience and something I’m really looking forward to. Being there as a coach is very exciting, but to play there is something different."
Ilkley go into the game at full-strength having survived a couple of injury scares. Preparation-wise, they have kept everything in-house, with none of the guest coaching novelties that some teams adopt.
A visit to East Grinstead did nothing to dent Ilkley confidence, but the Stack’s Field are well aware that their opponents have negotiated a long road to get to Twickenham.
"They have some very good individual players and they were able to take every opportunity that was offered to them,” said Rugby Coordinator Tom Gillon. “They’ve played twice as many matches as us to get to Twickenham and they’ll be match fit, there’s no doubt about that.
“We’re expecting a stern test, but since we hardly ever get out of Yorkshire, it was valuable to see what Level 7 rugby equates to in Sussex. We’ll have over 600 supporters making the trip and we’re looking forward to a good day.”
David Duxbury is a former Ilkley player and coach who moved to Baildon RUFC and now finds himself sharing the Twickenham adventure with his RFU workmates, although in his case it will be in a coaching role as he seeks to pilot the Jenny Lane team through an RFU Junior Vase final against Harrow RUFC.
The Yorkshiremen have not escaped injury disappointments, with hooker Tom Craven (hand) and flanker Matt Williams (knee) both ruled out of the showpiece, but otherwise it is the mixture as before, with coach Duxbury sticking to the familiar week-to-week training programme with no added frills.
Team Manager Andy Whitley said: “I’m simply thrilled for all the people who have supported the club and now have a chance to share in this. It’s all about the club and the people who have supported the club, some older members and pensioners who have been with us for years. It’s all about the community atmosphere within the club. We’ve made it and I’m so pleased for everyone that is going down.
“We have one member coming from Australia and a couple coming from the very North of Scotland and Ireland. It’s that kind of very special occasion and we’re all very excited to be involved.”
If Twickenham experience counts for anything, then Wath upon Dearne RUFC are in a strong position as they prepare for Saturday’s RFU Senior Vase final against Wells RUFC.
The South Yorkshire side can look to three of their players who have run out at rugby’s most famous stadium in the past and, perhaps more importantly, have first-hand knowledge of how to cope with the pressures of handling the biggest occasion in the club’s history.
Both scrum half Joe Bartlett and lock Richard Hill played in the Powergen Intermediate Cup final for Halifax when they beat Gosport and Fareham in 2002, while Hill has also trodden the famous turf with Yorkshire Under 20.
Former England Under 21 prop Dean Hardcastle is the third player with Twickenham connections forged during his time with England Under 21 and while fly-half Martin Bray will be making his debut at headquarters, as a former England Under 18 player, he has tasted the adrenalin rush of the international occasion.
Yorkshire spies report opposition from the West Country who are extremely well-coached and organised, as evidenced by their promotion from Level 8 this season, and there is an expectation in the Wath camp of a keen tussle.
Wath, who have won their last nine games and have no new injury issues, will return from their post-match get-together at Twickenham RUFC, with one game to play at West Leeds where a couple of points will ensure their promotion to Yorkshire One and Level 7, but before then everyone in the community is getting into Twickenham party mode.
“We will be taking 11 coach-loads of supporters and we can’t wait for Saturday,” says Press Officer Rebecca Bird. “Since we won the semi against Stourbridge Lions, interest in the club has grown massively, not just in terms of people coming to watch, but also in people going out of their way on the street to wish us well. It’s a great feeling.”
Junior Vase Final: Baildon v Harrow (11am)
Senior Vase Final: Wath Upon Dearne v Wells (1pm)
Intermediate Cup Final: East Grinstead v Ilkley (3pm)