Preview to Blaydon (a) 29.10.11


Jersey Beans, we get to games by flying
Lost five points the other week, but there's no use in crying
Having fun in National One, we've seen all kinds of places
An' writ new words to well-known toons... including 'Blaydon Races'


Blaydon may no longer have the racecourse immortalised by Geordie folk singer George Ridley (apologies to him for the above effort), but the rugby club that used to play on the same turf as the race horses is still going strong. For a town with a population of 14,600, Blaydon RFC certainly punches above its weight, with 11 straight seasons in the National Leagues, the last three-and-a-bit at Level Three.

The North-East of England is new territory for Jersey, and the trip to Tyneside looks like one of the toughest of the season. Just four points separate the teams in the SSE National One rankings, and although the table shows the visitors have won twice as many games as the hosts thus far (6-3) the advantage of playing at home is not to be under-estimated.

Blaydon have won three of their four games on their own patch in 2011/12, and they were impressive wins too, against Cambridge, Fylde and Macclesfield, none of whom even got close enough for a losing bonus point. Perhaps even more dangerously, the only loss was the most recent home match, a 20-25 defeat to Barking that will leave our hosts desperate to get back to winning ways.

Away from home, the picture may be less impressive, with just a solitary draw, at Coventry, and two bonus points to show from five outings, including a 34-25 defeat in the local derby against Tynedale, just 15 miles west of Blaydon. However this travel sickness won't be a factor at Crow Trees at 2.30pm this Saturday.

News from the Jersey camp

October started with news of James Ellershaw's car accident, followed by the deduction of points, so it was to be hoped the month would get better. The improvement has been impressive, with three successive wins: solid bonus-point efforts at home to Wharfedale and Sedgley Park, and a deserved if narrow success at Stourbridge.

Ben Harvey's men are back in the top half of the table, and currently full of belief that rising further (Fylde and Cambridge are just seven points ahead in second and third spots respectively) is a viable ambition.

The injury problems that marred the start of the season have not miraculously disappeared, but at least there seem to be more players coming back to fitness than there are fresh concerns. Dai Bishop impressed in the centre against Sedgley, and the return of Ross Broadfoot presents Harvey with a selection issue regarding the number 10 shirt, worn impressively by Mike Le Bourgeois since his switch from full back a few weeks ago.

With skipper Paul Rodgers still doubtful with a knee injury - hopefully not too serious - the squad for this weekend's trip looks likely to be similar to last week's, with the possible addition of backs Ashley Maggs and Brendan O'Brien to the mix, and maybe some changes to the starting XV.

Our opponents

The recent close-season saw a change of personnel on the coaching front, with former DoR Tom Rock departing for Otley and the arrival of former Newcastle Falcons prop Micky Ward in a player-DoR role. The 32-year-old has made the most of the links with the nearby Premiership club, and his signings have included a number of dual registration deals that allow Falcons players to turn out in National One when they are not required at Kingston Park.

The likes of James Hall (aged 25, prop), Glen Townson (24, lock), Dan Frazier (22, prop), Darren Fearn (22, prop), James Fitzpatrick (24, centre) and Tom Catterick (21, fly half), the dual-registered players, may not be household names, but the fact that they are on the books of a Premiership outfit suggests they will be fit and skilful. Expect some, though not all, to be available for Blaydon this weekend.

Ward has also played his part on the pitch, appearing in all nine of his team's games thus far, the cornerstone of a formidable pack. Blaydon have already earned three penalty tries, the most in the league, and while such scores do not necessarily stem from the forwards, it suggests a pack that knows what they are doing.

The backs have been coached by another ex-Falcons man, the scrum-half Hall Charlton, although he has yet to appear in a match-day squad this year, other than warming the bench against Fylde four weeks ago as an unused sub. For the moment Charlton (the player) appears to be surplus to requirements, with both Matt Mellish and Lewis Crosbie acquitting themselves well at number 9.

In the backs, the strings have been pulled by new signing Niall Rowark, a former Hong Kong international, who plays both fly half and full back, while the leading source of tries has been winger Frazer Wilson, whose total of seven included an outstanding hat-trick against then unbeaten Fylde as the Lancastrians were handed a 33-17 thumping.

History of Blaydon RFC

With a history that can be traced back officially to 1888, the club first played at Path Head on the outskirts of the town, but in 1892, it moved to the Blaydon Racecourse before transferring to The Spike.

During the next 25 years the ground moved between the two sites but after the First World War the Racecourse became the recognised ground, and this remained the case until the land
was purchased by the then North Eastern Electricity Board in 1951 to erect Stella South Power Station, a key source of energy for the North-East until it was demolished in 1991.

Upon leaving the Racecourse, the club moved to its present site, Crow Trees, at Swalwell and gradually over the succeeding years, the ground has been developed to include its new clubhouse, stand, and match floodlights.

The clubhouse was opened in October 1996 by two of the club's most famous sons, England caps Steve Bainbridge and Mick Skinner. This was a great year for Blaydon as it also featured the lifting, for the first time, of the Durham Cup thanks to a 22-3 win over Darlington. This was the highlight in the long service of David Guthrie, who skippered the club for an amazing 15 seasons.

Playing in the RFU league structure has allowed Blaydon to gradually advance their league status, with a total of four promotions leading to the decade of continuous National League rugby already mentioned.

The new facilities at Crow Trees include three functions suites, a gym with around 1,000 members and space for a weekly car-boot sale that runs weekly from March to November and attracts vendors at customers from miles around - don't expect there to be any space left if you turn up after 7am on a dry Sunday. These factors have played a key part in the financial stability of this successful community club.

Blaydon trivia

• Blaydon's biggest defeat, a 64-10 defeat by Manchester in March 2008, was followed two seasons later by the club's two biggest wins. After Manchester began their freefall defeat down the league pyramid they were beaten 145-12 and 140-0 by Blaydon in 2009/10.
• Just after the war the dual international Martin Donnelly played for Blaydon. The man known as 'Squib' played cricket seven times for New Zealand, the country of his birth. An elegant left-handed batsmen, his best innings was 206 v England at Lord's in 1949. He also represented England at rugby, winning his only cap in the 1947 Home Nations defeat in Dublin.
• The Blaydon Races was first performed by George Ridley 149 years ago and is sung most famously by fans of Newcastle United. Supporters of Newcastle Falcons also chant it, and the song has been adapted by sports fans across the UK.
• There is an annual Blaydon Race, held every June, which is a 5.9 mile run from the Bigg Market in Newcastle city centre to Blaydon along the route described in the song.

Following the game

Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Blaydon v Jersey v through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's 'Sportscene' from 6- 7pm on Friday, and regular updates on Saturday afternoon
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 at 5.10pm on Saturday
• Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online

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