- Old Yardleians bounce back after relegation
- Harbury aim to repeat league win in Midlands Junior Vase final
Richard McCrainor is within two matches of taking a club to a Twickenham final as a coach for the second time in eight years.
The former Birmingham & Solihull and North Midlands lock was player/coach when Solihull were beaten by Sheffield Tigers in the RFU Junior Vase final in 2005.
McCrainor, who retired from playing seven years ago, is now in charge of Old Yardleians, another Solihull club, and has steered them to the final of the Midlands Junior Vase, which is effectively the national quarter-final of the RFU Junior Vase.
Old Yardleians face a trip to Warwickshire village club Harbury for the regional final on Saturday, March 16 where they will face the only side to beat them so far this season.
Harbury triumphed 23-16 in Midlands Four West (South) league match the last time Old Yardleians visited Waterloo Fields, but that was a rare blip in a remarkable first season for McCrainor.
Old Yardleians have lost only five of the 69 matches played across their senior sides this season with their third team unbeaten, a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for a club that was relegated last year with just two league wins to their name.
“We had hit the bottom of the deep blue sea and so a few of the old boys in the club got together and set about looking at ways of turning things around,” said McCrainor.
Having dropped to their lowest-ever league, Old Yardleians brought in McCrainor and Jake White, a former Bath Colts, Exeter and Launceston player, to form a new coaching team helped by old boy Mark Higgins, a former Great Britain international discus thrower and World Strongman.
“We have already won the league title and the club is buzzing again,” McCrainor said. “This is a real rugby club. If anything needs fixing around the place then everyone mucks in and does it.”
A Twickenham final remains a dream for most grassroots rugby players and coaches but McCrainor has the chance to take two different clubs to a final at the Home of England Rugby.
“Although Solihull lost the 2005 final the memories are still very special. How many players at whatever level get the chance to play at Twickenham?” he said.
A Twickenham final is also the incentive for Harbury, who will be staging the biggest match in their 51-year history on Saturday.
Most of Harbury’s players are products of the successful mini and junior system that produced former Northampton Saints and Bedford Blues flanker Ben Lewitt.
But their star player is Hendry Rheeders, the former Coventry and Jersey back-row forward, who is also their director of rugby.
“It’s going to be a big day for the club and we are expecting a big crowd,” said Harbury captain, Matt Knight.
“When you get to this stage of the competition then Twickenham is an obvious incentive and that’s something for us to really push for.
We’ve played Old Yardleians twice. We ended their unbeaten record earlier in the season, they got their own back when we went over there so it promises to be a good one.”