- McCrainor ready for Junior Vase holders
- Stalwarts help to turnaround Midlands club
Former strongman Mark Higgins is one of the key figures who have helped to transform the fortunes of Midlands club Old Yardleians in less than year.
All was doom and gloom when Old Yardleians were relegated to Midlands Four West (South) last season with just two wins to their name but Higgins is among the stalwarts who have helped to turn things around at Tilehouse Lane.
Higgins was an international discus thrower with Great Britain and a champion powerlifter who won the World Strongman Challenge on two occasions.
He also played rugby for Old Yardleians and his new role as nutrition and conditioning coach has been significant in helping the Solihull-based club win promotion this season.
They added the Midlands Junior Vase nine days ago with an 11-9 win in the final at Harbury and they now face holders Baildon away in the semi-finals of the RFU Junior Vase on Saturday, March 30 with a place at Twickenham at stake.
“We were at a very low ebb last season but Mark Higgins, our chairman Steve Sidwell and Tom Power, another club stalwart, have really helped to turn things around,” said Old Yardleians head coach Richard McCrainor.
“Tom does a lot of unsung voluntary work, things like putting out the players’ shirts and socks before a match to ensure that all they need to worry about is the rugby.
“Mark has brought a bit of direction to the club. He’s an ex-professional athlete and he knows how sport works from the bottom up.
“He’s done a lot of work in preparing the players but also does some mentoring work with some of the youngsters in the team.”
Sidwell was forced to miss the Midlands final because he was attending his daughter’s wedding in Switzerland but he will be back on rugby duty this weekend and will be among the Old Yardleians supporters making the trip to Baildon.
McCrainor, a former Birmingham & Solihull lock, has used his contacts in the North to glean valuable information about Baildon but accepts that Old Yardleians face a tough task against a side unbeaten at home since October 2011.
“They are reigning champions, they know how to get to Twickenham and how to win at Twickenham,” said McCrainor, who was Solihull’s player/coach when they were beaten by Sheffield Tigers in the 2005 final.
“They have got a few old heads and a few good youngsters as well and we know from their record that they are very good at home.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge but they have got the pressure of defending their title and that long unbeaten home record.”