- Lancashire chief wary of Roses rivals
- Yorkshire strongest on paper insists Nelson
Mark Nelson, coach to defending Bill Beaumont RU Cup Champions Lancashire, is taking a leaf out of Roberto Mancini’s book when he insists ahead of Saturday’s Roses match at Scarborough that Yorkshire have the strongest squad in the Northern Pool of the Bill Beaumont Cup.
Like the Manchester City boss who has been claiming the supremacy of his Old Trafford rivals in recent weeks despite compelling evidence to the contrary, Nelson holds fast to his view that with the support they have received from Championship clubs Leeds Carnegie and Rotherham, the White Rose men are still the side to beat in a very competitive Northern pool.
The fact that Yorkshire were beaten by Cheshire for a third successive occasion on Saturday at Macclesfield does not sway Nelson. Neither does the fact that coming into the Red Rose reckoning for Scarborough are Italy international Warren Spragg from Petrarca, possibly England Sevens flier Nick Royle, Ben Vernon, the England Counties Under 20 flanker, England Counties wingman Ollie Brennand, Fylde pair Gareth Rawlings (flanker) and Steve Briers (centre), and Caldy’s Mark Rylance (hooker).
“I think that Yorkshire on paper are the strongest team in the competition having had the support of Leeds and Rotherham.” says Nelson. “Yorkshire are taking us to the far-flung reaches of the county and I’m expecting a very tough engagement at Scarborough.
“I don’t subscribe to the view that a tough game against Northumberland was what we need to launch our campaign – I’d rather have had a fluid opening game.
“But the North is a stronger division this season and every game is going to be tough. The Roses game will be no different. We need to be at our best to come away with a win.”
“The last time we won the title we were beaten in our opening game, so we are not too down about the defeat against Cheshire, even though we were obviously disappointed to lose,” says Yorkshire Team Manager Graham Siswick. “It was a real see-saw game where the lead changed hands seven times, so it was disappointing to lose at the end.
“We certainly have some things to work on in training and we also have some decisions to make about the starting line-up for Saturday because have a handful of players coming into the reckoning who were not available last weekend.”
Hull full-back Jim Wigglesworth, who played for the England Counties Under 20s against Scotland Under 20s last Friday, comes into the frame, while up front, Leeds Carnegie’s Phil Nilsen will come in at hooker.
England Counties captain Rob Baldwin is also available to take a back-row berth, as is Huddersfield captain Nick Sharpe, but lock Rob Kench (Hull Ionians) is ruled out with an arm injury, so a re-shuffle in the back five of the scrum will have to be made.
The staging of the fixture on the East Coast has raised an eyebrow or two in Lancashire, but all the signs point to a bumper rugby day. Scarborough club personnel have been promoting the game enthusiastically for several weeks and the townsfolk have rallied behind them extremely well, with around 1,000 tickets already sold and plans in place for an attendance of twice the figure on Saturday.
Cheshire had a hard-core of Macclesfield players to help cement their opening day cohesion in their win over Yorkshire and once again ‘Macc’ provide the bulk of the squad for Saturday’s visit of Northumberland, but with Caldy players now free from the Play-off duties that occupied them last weekend at Richmond, they now swell the team’s National League involvement.
“Having the Caldy lads going down to Richmond altered our plans a bit last weekend, but having the Macclesfield players is a massive help and this year selection has been a breeze by comparison with previous seasons,” says Team Manager David Partington.
“The first game always presents the challenge of getting patterns in the play and familiarity among the players and I’ve found that by the third or fourth game you can have a side that is unrecognisable from the initial outing.
“It certainly helped having a core of players from one club and having units within the team that were familiar with each other. We didn’t play like Macclesfield, but in that last 15 minutes we played some pretty patient rugby, worked on patterns and looked after the ball.
“We can improve and in the next couple of games we’d like to see our performances going up a notch.
“We know Northumberland will present a massive challenge because the standard of the competition this year is higher still and getting better. There will be no easy 10-minute spells in any game.”
Northumberland scored six tries last week against Lancashire at Vale of Lune and travel to Chester hoping to maintain their offensive form and tighten up their defence.
They have Jack Smales coming into the side at full-back, with his brother Hamish switching to midfield after a mercurial display last weekend. England Counties lock Richard Boyle comes into the second row and stalwart James Ponton takes over at No 8 from Sam Shires.
If statistics were a reliable guide, the Cumbria are odds-on to claim a home Semi-final in the County Championship Shield when they take on Notts, Lincs & Derby at Mansfield.
In their opening match, the men from the far North West swept Staffordshire aside 76-3 and since the Midlanders then beat the Three Counties 38-12 last weekend, albeit with a stronger side, all the form pointers suggest a Cumbrian win on Saturday.
If they achieve that win, they will then have a Semi-final against the winners of the Pool 4 finale between Middlesex and Surrey at Aspatria.
Cumbria’s only injury issue is a hamstring problem for Penrith centre Mike Hawley. Club-mate James Ellar comes in on the wing.