Preview to Stourbridge (H) 11.02.12

10/02/2012

By the time I got to Jersey - tough Stuff for the Hoff

With forecast temperatures of +2 or +3 centigrade and the UV index expected to be at its highest level since November, it's just as well the visiting team have a Director of Rugby nicknamed 'the Hoff' by supporters.

As well as coaching the Stourbridge Saxons in their game against league leaders Jersey, Neil 'the Hoff' Mitchell will be in charge of supplies of sun cream, designer shades, buckets and spades. On Sunday morning he is expected to run in slo-mo along the entire length of St Ouen's beach clutching a lifebuoy under one arm and waving to admirers. Auditions for the part of Pamela Anderson will take place in the Jersey Clubhouse on Saturday evening at half-time of the France/ Ireland game - details on application.

The current cold snap across most of England means it's possible this game will be in a minority in the National Leagues in taking place as scheduled, assuming that is that Hoff and his squad are able to get to Brum Airport and across the Channel.

Two Saturdays ago Myles Landick was chatting about the intricacies of front row play with Wharfedale President (and IRB/ Barbarians grand fromage) John Spencer at the Devonshire Arms in Grassington (to be fair, Spencer seemed to know a bit about the dark arts, for a back at least). This week Jersey's loose-head prop/ groundsman was tending his splendid acreage at St Peter and laying down a strategic fleece to cover the strip of ground in front of the clubhouse that doesn't see the sun between Hallowe'en and Easter. Just in case. Expect a splendid surface, and perhaps a few early Jersey Royals, when the cover is pulled back on Saturday morning.

News from the Jersey camp
For a man who could assemble a decent XV of injured players over the course of the season, Jersey's Ben Harvey has the relative luxury of an almost unchanged side this weekend. There's a little hokey-cokey at scrum-half, with Brendan O'Brien putting both legs in, while Dave McCormack shakes it all about on the bench.

With one talented teenager resting up ahead of a divisional appearance at the national under 18 trials next week, Harvey introduces another. Replacing Chris Levesley is Sam Fuller, who was 18 a fortnight ago and will play in the back three. He joins the sizeable frame of 17-year-old James Voss on the bench, alongside Macca, Charlie C-S and new recruit James Gethings, who is virtually certain to get a home debut at some point.

Of the walking wounded, it is hoped that back row men Guy Thompson and Steve O'Brien could be back in contention in early March, along with leading scorer Mike Le Booj and the crocked Welsh trio of Dai Bishop, Dai Maddocks and Nicky Griffiths.

This is the likely line-up for the home team:
1. Myles Landick
2. Dave Felton
3. Ben Evans
4. Nathan Hannay
5. Jim Brownrigg
6. Graham Bell (capt)
7. Kingsley Lang
8. Nick Trower
9. Brendan O'Brien
10. Ross Broadfoot
11. Ashley Maggs
12. Donovan Sanders
13. James Copsey
14. Ed Dawson
15. Glenn Bryce
Subs: Charlie Clyde-Smith, James Gethings, James Voss, Dave McCormack, Sam Fuller

Any previous?
It seems light years away, but less than four months ago the two teams clashed at Stourton Park. Just six league points separated the two at kick-off, and the margin on the scoreboard was even tighter.

A quickly-run tapped penalty by Macca and five strikes by Le Booj saw Jersey carve out a 19-10 lead just after half-time. Nathan Bressington had got Stour's first try just before the break and a second five-pointer from Ben Barkley made it interesting. Mark Woodrow, since departed for the Birmingham Bees, missed a makeable conversion and even though he nailed a penalty soon afterwards, and Jersey went scoreless for the last 38 minutes, the visitors still won by 19-18.

Captain Paul Rodgers made his final appearance of the season for Jersey at Stourton Park, sustaining a knee injury that, while not initially serious, has since required surgery. An unfortunate weekend for Paul was salvaged the following morning when New Zealand beat Australia in the World Cup semi-final.

Jersey's win was the second of a 15-match winning streak, while Stour have remained stuck in the relegation zone and the two clubs are now 49 points, and 13 places, apart in the table. The visitors know they'll need a mini-streak of their own to garner the points needed (25 might be about right) to maintain another notable sequence - 11 straight seasons at Level Three, second only to Wharfedale. Tough, but not impossible.

Stour in 2011/12
Up to the narrow defeat by Jersey, Stour had won just once with victory over Birmingham Bees in September. The next success was at home to Wharfedale, and November saw perhaps the game of the season - a 12-try feast at Sedgley, but again just a point to show for it with the final score 43-35.

In the four games starting November 26th Stour beat Barking (a), Cambridge (h) and Cov (h) and lost by 22-19 at Macc.

January has seen a weird statistical quirk for the Saxons that may be unique in rugby history. Or at least so obscure that no-one will dare challenge it. Playing Fylde, Blackheath, the Bees and Ealing, Stour managed to outscore the oppo in the second half on each occasion, scoring three second-half tries in every game, but ended up with four losses, no try bonuses and just a measly losing BP against the Bees.

Last time out Stour hosted Ealing and trailed 21-0 at the break, before tries from skipper Ben Hughes, prop Andy Lawrence and No 8 Adrian Hall made the final score 31-19.

In the season to date Stour have scored 19 first-half tries and 41 after the break, so if they could hit the ground running in games straight from the whistle they would undoubtedly be higher up the table. But then if my uncle was a woman, he'd be my aunt.

The Stourbridge pack has been bolstered this season with the arrival of former Leicester, Coventry and Cambridge lock Robbie Hurrell, who has been ever-present this season. Also with 21 appearances is hooker Liam Wordley (19 starts and 2 subs), a man for whom every month is Movember, and who is second in the try-scoring stakes this season with 8.

There's some real experience in the Stour pack, with hardened props Andy Lawrence and Adam Sturdy and some liveliness in the back row from Aussie Alex Rovira and Joe Garner, one of several players with Worcester connections.

In the backs, brothers Nathan and Alistair Bressington provide some essential gas, and plenty of tries, older brother Alistair having broken his sibling's record of 17 tries in a season with 19 of his own in 2006/07. But only the younger brother is likely to figure this weekend - he has 14 tries to his name already this season. Fellow winger Jamie Hearn is likely to assume the kicking duties.

The likely line-up for Stour includes no less than four changes in the backs to the team that played Jersey in October. Fly-half Sam Robinson is set to return after recovering from injury.

In spite of the weather, Stour were able to source a location for Thursday night training, after which team selection was set to be finalised. The team supplied in advance of this for the programme was:

1. Adam Sturdy
2. Jordan Page
3. Andy Lawrence
4. Robbie Hurrell
5. Ben Hughes (capt)
6. Joe Garner
7. Alex Rovira
8. Adrian Hall
9. Tom Richardson
10. Sam Robinson
11. Jamie Hearn
12. Ben Barkley
13. Tom Jarvis
14. Nathan Bressington
15. Matt Williams
Subs: Liam Wordley, Mike Hill, James Rodley, Pete White and Chris Reakes

History of Stourbridge
Stourbridge RFC was founded in 1876 as a branch of the Stourbridge Cricket Club and shared the Cricket ground in Amblecote. As Association Football flourished, the rugby section was ousted and from 1883 rugby football soldiered on in a variety of locations throughout the town, with the highlight being a mini golden era in the two seasons 1887-9 when only four games were lost out of a total of 37. Despite this success on the field of play, interest in the game seems to have waned and after 2 lacklustre seasons the club was forced to disband in 1893.

The club was revived in 1921, and yet again, it proved difficult to find a satisfactory location. An old soccer ground at Vicarage Road, Wollaston, rented from the Church, was their home for 43 years, and during this period, Stour benefited from a close connection with the local King Edward's Grammar School, which for years produced the core of players, administrators and supporters that accounted for the prosperity of the club.

There was a memorable 1933-4 season when only two games were lost and apart from the inevitable break during the Second World War, the club has flourished ever since. So much so that only in four out of the 56 post war seasons until entry to Level Three (then called National 2) in 2001 did the club end up with a losing record.

The most distinguished products of school and club were Bob Lloyd-Jones (Moseley) Huw Davies (Coventry, Wasps and 21 caps for England) and Peter Shillingford (Moseley).

In 1965-6, the club moved to its present freehold site at Stourton, which now boasts excellent facilities including six pitches, a 450-seat grandstand and a splendid clubhouse.

After the leagues started in 1987 Stour were in Area League North and remained at this level until promotion - the only occasion the club have moved up or down - in 2001. The 10 completed seasons at Level Three have seen a best finish of third in 2007/08 and a lowest ranking of 11th.

Neil Mitchell who had started and ended his playing career at Stourton Park, bordering a long spell at Moseley, became Director of Rugby in 2004.

2010/11 saw Stour finish ninth in Nat 1, with 66 points in a congested table that saw only nine points separate 7th- 14th in the standings. Alistair Bressington and Jamie Hearn were top-scorers with 80 and 68 points from their boots respectively, while Charlie Hayter scored 15 tries and James Ridley 11.

Stourbridge Trivia
* Neil Mitchell and Ben Harvey are former team-mates, having played together for both Stour and Moseley
* Ben was top-scorer for the club for four successive seasons in the mid-noughties, and is the all-time top points scorer with 987
* In February 2003 Stour beat Esher 55-43 at Stourton, Neil scored a try and Ben contributed 20 points. Prop Adam Sturdy was also playing that day, while ref Eric Woodmason is a touch judge for this fixture
* Stourbridge lies in the Black Country, a former heavily industrialised area west of Birmingham. It is famous, among other things, for its pork scratchings!
* Pop band The Wonder Stuff were originally from Stourbridge. Their first UK top 10 hit was The Size of a Cow in 1991, and who could forget their 1998 album By The Time I Got To Jersey?

Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Stourbridge through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6-7pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon. Even available in the Black Country for those who are online.
• Preview in Friday's JEP, further build-up in Saturday's Inside Centre pull-out, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday afternoon, either just before or just after 5pm depending on how many times the ref stops his watch
• Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online

And finally
In the hope of another sizeable crowd at St Peter, supporters have been reminded to set off early, consider taking the bus if at all possible, and buy their tickets in advance, or at least have the right money. There will also be live Six Nations rugby on the big screens - England v Italy at 4pm and France v Ireland at 8.

Enjoy your weekend's rugby
Tom Innes

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