- Walsh sets sights on Twickenham
- Staffordshire pull out of Shield
Photo: RFU Archive
Leicestershire hope that it will be third time lucky in this season’s County Championship Shield after finishing as runners-up twice in the last three seasons.
They were beaten by Surrey in last season’s final at Twickenham and by Dorset & Wilts two years previously.
But head coach Paul Walsh, who again has former England scrum half Harry Ellis and ex-Leicester Tigers captain Ian Smith as his assistants, believes that this season’s squad is capable of winning the competition.
“We think this is the best squad we have had in three years and we believe that we are capable of winning the Shield,” Walsh said.
“Harry Ellis, Ian Smith and I wouldn’t get involved if we didn’t think we had a chance of winning it.
“We take our county rugby very seriously in Leicestershire. It’s not an end of season jolly.”
The nucleus of Leicestershire’s 32-strong squad is made up of players from Hinckley – Walsh’s club – and South Leicester.
They will be missing players from Syston for the Shield opener against Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire at Newark on April 27 because of a club tour to Portugal.
But if Leicestershire are going to win the Shield they will have to do it the hard way as they will have no home pool matches following the withdrawal of Staffordshire from the competition.
Leicestershire were due to host Staffordshire at Vipers on May 4 but they have now been left with a potential blank weekend ahead of a trip to Penrith to face Cumbria on May 11.
Leicestershire are in discussions with one of the southern counties to play a friendly on May 4 to fill a gap in their fixture list.
Staffordshire’s decision to withdraw from the Shield was taken because of difficulties in raising a team due to rearranged league matches.
“We considered various options but the decision was taken after a meeting of our playing committee to withdraw from the competition this season,” said Staffordshire secretary Rob Forsyth.
“The intention is to re-enter the competition next year but we have serious selection issues at the moment caused by the number of our clubs who have rearranged league games caused by the severe weather we have had in the Midlands this winter.”
Staffordshire were due to host Cumbria in their opening Shield match at Newcastle-under-Lyme this Saturday.
Warwickshire will start their County Championship Shield programme without any Sutton Coldfield players because their club is involved in a promotion play-off against Harrogate on Saturday for a place in National Two North next season.
Warwickshire had hoped to include half-a-dozen Sutton players in their squad for their opening match against Buckinghamshire at High Wycombe.
Instead Warwickshire have included seven newcomers in their starting XV in Newbold on Avon including prop Nick Walton, Old Coventrians lock Aaron Crofts, Broadstreet trio Callum Tucker, Beau Carney and Chris Wood, Old Wheatleyans wing Richard Drury and Barkers’ Butts full back Nathan Tilsley. There are four more prospective debutants among the replacements.
Nuneaton fly half Huw Thomas, who has taken over as Warwickshire’s head coach from former Ireland flanker Neil Best, will start against Buckinghamshire.