Preview to Rosslyn Park (h) 14.01.12


Ginger Princes, Hell-Raisers and the Slingbacks

The start of 2012 has been marked at a variety of the world's major sporting arenas by the return of former greats. Thierry Henry appeared at the Emirates Stadium, hot-on-the-heels of Paul Scholes at Old Trafford, while in the stands at the Sydney Cricket Ground, former Aussie PM and retired hell-raiser Bob Hawke (82) was filmed - apparently spontaneously - downing a beer in one.

In such a climate it was no surprise to learn that Jersey and Rosslyn Park had been fighting to secure a one-off come-back by former great Rad Montgomery. Described by his agent as "only just older than Simon Shaw, and with a straighter nose", Rad was expected to make a late decision as to whether to play for his adopted Island home, his former club, or to attend the pre-match lunch. All three emergency services are on stand-by.

Jersey's first home game of 2012 is certainly a tempting affair, both for home fans and for a significant number of travelling supporters (100+ seems realistic) from London. Park head the table by a single point from Jersey (68-67), and unlike the Islanders' trip to Ealing last Saturday, the winners know they will definitely lead the league at the end of the afternoon. The losers may lose ground to Ealing (64 pts) and/ or Fylde (65), who visit Cinderford and Sedgley Park respectively.

A total of 14 games have gone past since the clubs met previously in late September, and each has lost just once in this period, so the game is fascinatingly poised and looks set to be played on a dry and bright, if cold, day at St Peter (k-o 3pm).

The dry weather should allow both sides to show-case their attacking abilities - one statistical quirk is that both destroyed Cambridge during their recent winning runs by scoring 33 unanswered points in the second-half. Park's threat seems to stem mostly from a back-line that has scored 45 tries this season. Jersey's backs have 'only' 36 tries to their credit, however Park's 10 tries from the forwards is out-done by Jersey's 29, which includes six penalty tries.

Watch out for strong impact off the bench - Jersey have made a habit of picking up late bonus points, while the visiting team's bench leads the league by a distance in terms of try-scoring - Park replacements have scored 11 tries this season, 10 of them in the last quarter of game.

News from the Jersey camp

Jersey were delighted to start the year with a workman-like 24-16 win at then-leaders Ealing, scoring three tries to one, denying the hosts a losing bonus point and gaining revenge for Ealing's 26-15 win at St Peter in September.

The win did come at a cost, with leading points-scorer Mike Le Bourgeois and centre Dai Bishop both leaving the game early on and facing a fight to be fit for this Saturday. While neither has been officially ruled out at the time of writing, at least Jersey have capable replacements standing by. Ross Broadfoot has returned to full fitness and is expected to start at fly-half, while Scotland Under-20 player Glenn Bryce is fit again and available to play in the back three if required.

The possible loss of Bishop would be a blow after he and Donovan Sanders started 10 consecutive games together in the centres, but both Ashley Maggs and James Copsey could fill in ably.

In the forwards, hooker Dave Felton was another casualty last week and a late call will be made between him and Charlie Clyde-Smith. The remaining issues will be to choose two starting props and a replacement from Ben Evans, Myles Landick and Dai Maddocks, and in the back row where Kingsley Lang, Nick Trower, Steve O'Brien, Graham Bell and Guy Thompson (plus Rad Montgomery) are all in contention.

Any previous?

Jersey's second away game of the season took them to Park's ground at Priory Lane, also known as The Rock, which makes it sound like a radio station in the US Mid-West.

Watched by 506 spectators, including three generations of the Montgomery family, the match was a proverbial one of two halves. Collectors of football clichés could have noted that while Ben Harvey was over-the-moon at still being in the game at half-time, when it was 6-6, his counterpart Jan Bonney must have been as sick-as-a-parrot that his team had not translated their hegemony into any sort of lead. It could even have been a winning lead, for Park had five shots at goal, landing only two, as well as territorial dominance that even meant both Jersey's efforts on goal were from their own half, albeit stroked over with ease by Mike Le Bourgeois.

Perhaps Park's fly-half Ross Laidlaw, who missed the whole of September but has been ever-present since, was the key absentee, not only in respect of goal-kicking - he averages about 13 points a match - but also running the game.

Whatever the reason, Jersey brought a whole load more to the party after half-time, attacking with real intent as Harvey made a triple change in the opening minutes (Trower, Ellershaw and Thompson). Le Booj landed two more kicks and 'Thommo' ended up on the wing with Jersey's only replacement back, Tommy Turner, having come on early for the injured Ross Broadfoot. Clinging to a 12-9 lead, a thrilling counter-attack sparked by James Copsey and Nathan Hannay led to a try for Le Booj and at the death, rather than kick the ball off the field to end the game, the visitors launched a final attack that saw Paul Rodgers score to seal a 24-9 win.

Park in 2011/12

At the start of this season, Park looked unlikely indeed to be challenging at the top. After a narrow home win against Blackheath and an away win at Barking, Park lost successive matches to Ealing, Cambridge and Jersey. A long away trip to Tynedale on October 1st saw the team finally click, and they have won 12 of their last 13 matches. The sole exception was away to Coventry, where Park battled back from a 23-0 deficit to lose by 30-29.

The recent good form has included some thumping wins: 59-12 at Birmingham, 40-18 against Sedge and last week's great recovery against Cambridge, but also a growing confidence in their winning habit by edging close-fought contests such as the 16-10 success at Fylde and the nail-biting 23-22 win against Ealing that brought the curtain down on 2011.

The visit of Cambridge to The Rock was a topsy-turvy affair, watched by 584 spectators, in which the away side led 17-10 at the break only to be blown away in the second period. Of the six tries, winger Steve Parsons scored once in each half, and the second-half feast also saw Miles Mantella, Dom Shabbo, Ben Gotting and Nev Edwards cross. Ross Laidlaw added a penalty and five conversions.

Park have one of the strongest mini / youth sections in the country, having produced many Premiership players. There is a home-grown flavour at the core of the present Park side with winger Nev Edwards, full-back Ed Lewis-Pratt, centre Charlie Gower, flanker Harry Rowland and prop Brett Williams all playing together in the Rosslyn Park Colts team of a few seasons back that reached the semi-finals of the National Colts Cup.

Grafted onto this, Park have several players with mixed levels of experience. Winger John Rudd has appeared for England Saxons and played regular Premiership rugby with Newcastle Falcons, while in contrast, at centre, is the current England Under-19 fly half Will Robinson. Also vying for a place at centre is former London Welsh player Dom Shabbo.

At fly half Park have the former Scotland 'B' international, Ross Laidlaw, the club's leading scorer each season since he joined and one of the most dependable goal-kickers in the League. Ross joined Park from Plymouth Albion in order to pursue a career in the City. At scrum half Park have thus far alternated between the vastly experienced Graham Barr and the highly promising former Bath youngster Mike Baxter.

The Park pack has much experience to draw upon: Prop Laurence Ovens and hooker Dan Richmond - also Park's Forwards Coach - were Championship regulars with Bedford Blues last season, whilst alternative props Nick Huggett and Lorne Ward have similar experience with London Welsh. Alternative hooker Ben Gotting has seen duty with London Wasps and doubles up as a fitness coach.

Skippering Park from the number 8 berth is Mark Lock, whose day job is as a coach at London Wasps, for whom he played many Premiership matches. He is joined at flanker by another former Wasp, Jonny Barrett, while also vying selection at flanker is the highly-regarded youngster Joe Trayfoot, who is jointly registered with Harlequins and has caught the eye of the England Youth selectors.

Rosslyn Park Head Coach, Jan Bonney, is in his first season with the club, having previously been Head of the highly successful Saracens Academy and is also Coach of England Counties. He played for London Scottish and Esher, but the job at Rosslyn Park is his first in charge of a senior club side.

History of Rosslyn Park

The Club's name comes from that of the cricket club from which the Football Club was formed in 1879, reflecting the area of Hampstead where the cricketers first played their scratch games before forming a proper cricket club.

At the end of their first season one of their number, Charles Hoyer Millar, proposed forming a football club to keep the players together during winter. There was already a Hampstead Football Club, thus the adoption of the Cricket Club's name. The original ground was at South End Green, Hampstead and then on to Gospel Oak and Acton before a lengthy tenure at Old Deer Park. The present colours were adopted in 1881.

Early fixtures were generally against the second teams of the leading clubs but in the 1890s Rosslyn Park joined the elite with matches against Oxford University, London Scottish, Blackheath, Richmond, Harlequins and London Welsh. In April 1892, Park became the first English club to tour abroad, their fixture against Stade Francais in Paris being the first ever International Match between the two countries at any code of football. Park won, though they were totally unprepared for the crowd - literally thousands of Parisians turned up, along with the British Ambassador!

In 1939 the club organised a schools' sevens competition which 16 teams entered. The event has gone on to become the world's largest sevens tournament. In 1951 there was a further landmark when the Park Seven won the Ladies' Cup at Melrose and thus became the first club to bring a trophy south of the border. Those who were there say that the victory was greeted in almost total silence!

After much negotiation, in 1956 the Club secured a 100-year lease of the present ground, the polo field of the adjacent Roehampton Club.

Rosslyn Park was thus firmly established in the upper echelons of the English game, and so the club remained for a hundred years. Before Leagues entered Rugby Union, Rosslyn Park twice reached the Final of the RFU Knock-out competition at Twickenham, narrowly losing on both occasions. When league rugby began in 1987, Rosslyn Park were placed in Division Two, which they won. The march of professionalism saw Park unable quite to repeat the level of achievement of the earlier years. With no "sugar daddy", they decided to remain amateur rather than dabble with some sort of halfway house with semi-professionalism. The Club has since bowed to the inevitable and operates on a semi-professional basis in striving to recover its former glories.

When semi-professionalism was introduced in 2007/08, Park finished 9th at level Four, but the following season they were second, and in 2009/10 they matched this achievement, with a league double over Ealing helping them achieve 113 points. This was the same figure as Trailfinders, but Park had won more games and went on to beat Loughborough Students in the play-off 43-21.

In their first season back at Level Three in 2010/11, Park finished a creditable 7th in the table although they did also concede the most points, 847, by any team.

Despite their ambitions, Rosslyn Park aims to remain a real rugby club, run by and for its own members with teams offering a game for anyone, operating the full range of social teams, mini- and Junior-sections.

Famous Sons

Rad Montgomery is well-known in both camps, having moved to Jersey after a glittering career in the great Rosslyn Park teams of the 1970s and 80s, which were a force to be reckoned with whether at 15-a-side, at the annual Middlesex Sevens tournament that used to sell out Twickenham at the end of every season, or in the bar afterwards. But there are a number of other names from Park's past (even bigger than Rad!) some of whom played in the same team as him.

* Andy Ripley. A maverick and true legend of the game, 'Rips' won 24 England caps in the 1970s, later starred in BBC's Superstars, came close to selection for the University Boat Race aged 50 and fought a noble battle against cancer, which eventually claimed him at the age of 62 in 2010. One of the bars at Priory Lane is named after him.
* Alexander Obolensky. The other bar at Park's ground is named after the Russian Prince, who played four times for England in 1936 and scored a famous try against New Zealand with a mesmeric diagonal run.
* Paul Ackford. The Rugby Correspondent of The Sunday Torygraph started at Park before moving to Harlequins and winning 25 England caps.
* Martin Offiah. As well as having two of the best-ever rugby nicknames (both 'Chariots' and 'Great Balls' have been coined), Offiah went on to great things in rugby league after being 'spotted' at the Middlesex sevens, winning 33 Great Britain and 5 England caps in the 13-man code.
* Of current players, Alex King, Nick Easter and Danny Cipriani all started their careers at Rosslyn Park.
* The actor Oliver Reed (is there a hell-raising theme to this week's preview?) played for Rosslyn Park in the 1970s and purchased a set of floodlights for the club.

Rosslyn Park Trivia

* One of the scrum-halves in Park's senior squad is Rhys Lapidus, whose uncle is the JRFC President, David.
* Rhys played against Jersey's James Copsey in April 2006 at Priory Lane when Copsey scored a try for Old Patesians, who won 24-14 in a National Three South game.
* Park has its own Ladies Section, who run two sides and are known as the Slingbacks.
* Leading scorers this season are Miles Mantella, 15 tries thus far, and Ross Laidlaw, with 170 points from kicks plus one try. This haul has helped Laidlaw overtake Sam Howard (626) as Park's all-time record scorer (at least in the modern 'league' era).

Following the game

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

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6-7pm on Friday, this week coming live from JRFC, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon. Even available in south-west London for those who are online.
• 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 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

As mentioned above, the Pavilion bar at JRFC will be open on Friday evening between 6 and 7pm for some pre-game chat, with our local BBC station in attendance. This event is for JRFC members and invited guests only.

You'll also find plenty of info, and the excellent Park News periodical on the Rosslyn Park website

Enjoy your rugby this weekend...

Tom Innes







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