Preview to Tynedale (a) 31.03.1229/03/2012
But I would walk 500miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked 1000miles
To fall down at your door
Jersey may be the leaders of National One, and Kings of the Road with 10 away wins from 13 attempts, but anyone proclaiming the Islanders as champions-elect is liable to be accused of premature calculation.
The longest journey in English rugby (part II) sees Jersey fly north across the Cherbourg peninsula, the English Channel and most of Blighty to Newcastle on Friday. The next day they head 20 miles inland to Corbridge, tucked beneath Hadrian's Wall, to take on Tynedale. It's a thousand miles return, give or take, and Ben Harvey's men will be determined not to fall down at the door, as they did in Barking three weeks ago.
The slip-up at Barking is the only one Jersey can afford if they wish to retain control of their own destiny in National One, with Ealing lurking ominously at their shoulder and Fylde refusing to give up on their own ambitions.
Sympathy regarding the long journey is not likely to be offered by their opponents, who made the reverse trip, changing planes in Southampton, in November starting at 0430. Well that's when the players were roused from their slumbers with personal wake-up calls from Tyne's one-of-a-kind Director of Rugby John Shotton; he'd been awake for a couple of hours after taking a phone call from one of the touring party who couldn't locate the correct polo shirt.
Mr Shotton has been involved at Tyne for many years and manages to be both entertaining and curmudgeonly when chatting about rugby. He's the only visiting Coach or DoR this season to have been spotted with a pint of Liberation Ale before kick-off, and probably needed it after the long journey. As well as several more later on after a game which left Tyne feeling a little hard done by, of which more anon.
News from the Jersey camp
Ben Harvey's squad this weekend is set to include the 20 who were on duty at St Peter last weekend, with scrum-half Nicky Griffiths added to the mix and a late call on who will miss out on a place on the bench.
In choosing the starting XV Harvey will have to weigh up the merits of Griffiths against incumbent (for most of the season, and skipper last weekend) Dave McCormack for the 9 shirt, and decide whether Dai Bishop should return to the centres. Ed Dawson or Mike Le Bourgeois are most likely to switch to the bench, while the starting pack may be identical to last weekend.
The injury situation can switch during the course of an afternoon, of course, but at the start of a four-game run-in Jersey are able to leave players of the calibre of Ashley Maggs, Steve and Brendan O'Brien and others behind in Jersey.
The visiting squad are set to spend Friday night at Kingston Park seeing whether Newcastle Falcons (currently eight points behind Wasps) can commence their escape route from Premiership relegation with a win over Sale.
On a sunny late Autumn afternoon, Jersey and Tyne were closely matched for much of the game, separated only by a try by 'Le Booj' which he also converted. As the match went into its final quarter of an hour, and with the sun having set and new floodlights being used for the first time, the visitors trimmed the lead with a penalty.
Jersey pulled clear on 73 minutes through Guy Thompson's try, and after the sin-binning of Tyne's Myles Scott, Charlie Clyde-Smith added another try. Tyne's most threatening back had been Hamish Smales, and it was he who burst clear for a try in what we thought were the dying seconds (19-8).
A rapid drop-kicked conversion later and the ref ruled there was time for a restart, with the visitors hopeful of a bonus point, but in fact Jersey came up trumps - with time up, a penalty was quickly taken by Brownrigg, who fed Ashley Maggs and was on hand to take the return pass and steam over the try-line. Perhaps they couldn't argue with the result in the end, but Tyne knew they'd had the chance to claim a notable scalp, and a 5-0 points split may have been a little harsh.
Tynedale in 2011/12
Tyne began an erratic campaign with a five-tries-to-four win over Stourbridge, one of three successes in four games that also included beating local rivals Blaydon.
The campaign then stuttered, including a surely unprecedented hat-trick of home defeats spanning just 22 days, before the boost of a 49-9 thrashing of the Bees.
In November leaders Ealing were at Tynedale Park and just escaped with the spoils, by 29-24, after Tyne ended the match pushing for a fifth try that would have earned at least a draw.
After defeat in Jersey Tyne had an impressive spell at the turn of the year, with five wins from seven including a 61-17 larrupping (author and spellcheck part company) of Sedgley Park in December and 25-24 over Macc in January.
But recent form has not been so good, with five losses in succession. This run has seen some stiff opposition including Fylde, Blackheath and Ealing, but most disappointing were a last-gasp defeat to the Bees (thanks to a DG by ex-J Dan Hawkes) and a 25-19 loss in the return derby match .
Last weekend Tyne took an inexperienced squad to Ealing and conceded four first-half tries and three more soon after the break, before rallying slightly and scoring tries through England Counties No 8 Sam Shires and wing Matt Horrocks, with the final score 56-15.
In common with Blaydon, Tynedale have close links with Newcastle Falcons with a number of dual registered (DR) players. The unpredictability of knowing when players may be required by their senior paymasters was perhaps one reason, along with injuries, why the team used around 50 players last season and have also seen plenty of change from week to week this time around (46 players used so far, according to Statbunker, against Jersey's 40).
This weekend it seems the home team will be boosted by some significant returnees - the Murray brothers and Grant Beasley in the pack, with Harry Peck, another Counties' cap two weeks ago, and Chris Harris at 9 and 15. Wearing number 10 could be the exciting 19-year-old prospect Joel Hodgson, one of the DR players who has played 10 times for Tyne this season and has seven appearances for Falcons, most recently in the Prem against Leicester five weeks ago.
Other DR players are the second row Richard Boyle, who saw action for Newcastle from the bench in this season's LV Cup, and 19-year-olds George McGuigan (hooker) and Jo Robinson (back row). Prop David Dickinson (I did the Bargain Hunt gag last year, and it was far too lame to bear repeating) left the fray at Ealing after just 16 minutes, but the third England Counties man is battling to be fit this Saturday.
In the backs, skipper Jack Harrison has been missing ever since injuring himself in Jersey, and remains out of contention, but one player who watched from the sidelines that day, Harry Mountain, will hope to face up against Scotland Under 20 team-mate Glenn Bryce. This is almost a home game for Brycie and a significant family contingent will be marching on Corbridge from north of the Wall.
Gavin Beasley, brother of Grant, missed the trip to Jersey and could play fly-half or centre depending on Hodgson's selection, while flyer Smales is speedy enough to have earned England Sevens' recognition.
Appropriately for somewhere where Roman Centurions used to roam the byways, Tynedale Park was something of a fortress for the home side in recent years. The team lost only four games at home in five seasons up to summer 2010, beating almost everyone including a 59-22 thrashing of London Scottish in April 2010.
But the last two seasons have seen the Fortress crumble, with four defeats last season and another six, from 13 matches, so far this campaign.
Shotton says his team are "so bloody unpredictable it's frightening", a reputation they will enhance if they can defy current form and get one over their high-flying visitors this weekend. Kick-off is at 3pm.
Tynedale - a potted history
The club were founded in 1876 and were one of the founder members of the Northumberland Rugby Union four years later. In 1894 they hosted the first-ever seven-a-side tournament in England.
The centenary of Tynedale RFC coincided with the move to the present ground at Tynedale Park, and when league rugby began a decade later, the club took their place in Thwaites North Division One.
After 13 seasons at the top tier of the regional game, Tyne made the jump to the national level by storming to the North One title in 1999/2000 by winning 22 straight games. They then spent eight seasons at Level Four, almost gaining promotion in 2006/07 (a play-off defeat by Westcombe Pk) before going up automatically in 2007/08, and in the next three seasons up to May 2011 finished fourth, fifth and fifth again at Level Three.
In 2005 Tynedale Park was under eight feet of flood water, with the social end of the clubhouse out-of-action for almost four months and three portable cabins used as temporary replacement.
Tynedale have appeared in 28 Northumberland Senior Cup Finals, winning the cup on 15 occasions.
Tynedale reached the fourth round of the National Knock-Out Cup on several occasions with some notable scalps from higher national leagues including London Scottish, Wakefield and Otley.
Arguably Tyne's most famous former player is the Welshman Noel Forbes Humphreys. Although he never played for his country, the Bridgend-born stand-off was part of a Tynedale team that won 15 trophies in the decade leading up to the Great War, and was selected for what is recognised as the first official British Lions tour to South Africa in 1910. Humphreys fought as a Captain in the Tank Corps (10th Battalion), was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Military Cross. He was killed in action on 27th March 1918 and is commemorated at Etaples Military Cemetery near Boulogne.
Jersey supporters hoping to go all the way in Newcastle this weekend should be aware that the Metro link between the airport and the city centre won't get you there on either Saturday or Sunday. Rather than travel half-way and then get a replacement bus, an expert source recommends the express buses from the airport to the Toon at 3 and 33 minutes past the hour, disembarking at Eldon Square. It's then a 10-minute walk along Grainger Street (past the Bigg Market - be strong!) to Central Station from where you can hop aboard the Hexham train as far as Corbridge.
If the above sounds challenging, then it's about 15 miles from the airport to Corbridge and might set you back £25- 30ish in a taxi.
The pre-match lunch is sold out, but a hog is being roasted, the scenery is apparently magnificent and there's a Dutch team (shorter flight for them) playing Tyne Vets, so it should be a splendid day. Last-minute flights are available from Flybe, leaving at 0705 Saturday via Southampton and back direct the following lunchtime (if you have a spare £421 - correct at time of going to press).
Jersey's rivals for promotion and the National One title face contrasting challenges. Ealing (four points adrift of Jersey's tally of 100) travel to sixth-placed Macclesfield, where the home side have lost just once since Jersey came away with the points in late November.
Outside contenders Fylde (92 points) will expect a bonus-point win against the Birmingham Bees, for whom defeat will almost certainly spell relegation.
Remaining games after this weekend, Ealing have: Cov (h), Fylde (a) and Bees (h). Fylde tackle: Blackheath (a), Ealing (h) and Jersey (a).
Blackheath deserve a mention at this stage. Club's maximum tally of 106 won't secure the title unless some veeeery strange things happen, but they are on fire at the moment with 30 points from six games, and with a game in hand on Good Friday against Blaydon they could yet achieve a podium finish.
Following the game
Those who can't make it this weekend needn't lose touch with the build-up to the game, and the action on Saturday from 3pm. Options for keeping tabs include:
* Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's 'Sportscene' from 6- 7pm on Friday, and live updates on Saturday afternoon (available online and on the 'wireless')
* Preview in Friday's JEP and full match coverage on Monday
* Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter, the club's increasingly-popular Facebook site, and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
* Match report on Channel 103 soon after the final whistle
* Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online.
Rugby in Jersey
Three fixtures on the (Jersey) home front of potential interest this Saturday. There's a double-header at Grainville, with Banks Ladies playing Portsmouth in a league match at 12.30, followed by the Gents against touring side Les Clamart at 2.30. At 3pm at St Peter, tourists from Roseland in Cornwall take on Les Quennevais, and apparently the visitors are likely to be short, so take your boots!
The longest journey in English rugby is described above, but what about internationally? My nomination would be the one that began in Mexico City last Saturday when Mexico played Jamaica.
The match was the first qualifying game for the 2015 World Cup, and was reffed by Craig Joubert, who did the last World Cup Final. Lawrence Dallaglio was there as an RWC ambassador (first class travel, watch rugby, drink tequila - what's not to like?) and saw the home team win 68-14.
There will be 184 qualifying matches worldwide before the finalists for 2015 in England, and among the games Lawrence has to look forward to are Senegal v Madagascar in Morocco, Philippines v Sri Lanka in Manila and Venezuela v Colombia in Caracas. It's a hard life...
Enjoy your weekend's rugby Lawrence (and everyone else)