Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire (NLD) have switched their opening match in this season’s National Under 20 Championship opener against East Midlands this Sunday (February 2) from Newark to Chesterfield Panthers’ new ground at Dunston.
The decision was taken because of the threat of flooding at Newark’s Kelham Road ground with further rain forecast and river levels in the nearby Trent predicted to rise.
It will be the first time that an official county match has been staged at Dunston, where a new £1.8 million clubhouse was opened recently, although NLD played Cheshire, last season’s losing finalists, there in a warm-up match last month.
Both NLD and East Midlands will field much-changed squads for the Pool Two fixture with around half of the East Midlands squad having graduated from last season’s county Under 18 squad.
“We are looking to build on our county age group sides and to create a pathway so that players come through the East Midlands Under 16s into the Under 18s and then the Under 20s,” said East Midlands chairman of playing Jeremy Tyrrell.
“By doing that we hope to keep more players in the East Midlands fold. Around half of this season’s Under 20s squad were in the Under 18s last season and around two-thirds have played for East Midlands Under 16s or Under 18s.”
East Midlands will be captained by Cambridge fly half Ben Penfold and have added Tom Orton of Bedford Athletic as an assistant to last season’s coaching team of Matt Goode (Chinnor) and Ollie Joyce (Bedford Athletic).
North Midlands, beaten quarter-finalists last season, have also been forced to switch venues for their opening Championship fixture against Eastern Counties on Sunday.
The match was due to be played at Moseley’s Billesley Common but that ground was under water on Thursday evening and with further rain forecast it has now been moved to Dudley Kingswinford’s Heathbrook ground (2.30pm).
North Midlands were encouraged by their performance in a 15-15 draw with Cheshire at Sandbach in a friendly two weeks ago although it came at a price as Old Halesonians prop Jake Hayden-Wright broke an ankle in the dying minutes of the first half.
Matt Spink (Birmingham & Solihull) and Reece Beddowes (Newport) are also sidelined by injuries and Jack Wardle of Loughborough University is unavailable this weekend.
In the National Under 20 Shield Warwickshire’s place in the quarter-final has been confirmed after Oxford University conceded this Sunday’s local derby against Oxfordshire because of a shortage of front row forwards.
Warwickshire have now secured runners-up spot in Pool Two and will travel to play Durham at a venue to be confirmed in the quarter-finals on February 9.
Staffordshire, runners-up in Pool One, will now travel to play Oxfordshire, also at a venue to be decided, on the same afternoon.