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Home > News > Red Rose champions adjust their sights
Your News Red Rose champions adjust their sights

DEFENDING Bill Beaumont Cup holders Lancashire will depart from tradition when they open their RU County Championship programme against Warwickshire at Sedgley Park RFC on Saturday (May 7, 3.45pm) by abandoning the cherry and white hooped shirts that the Red Rose county has worn for generations.

Instead the red rose will be appearing on a special one-off shirt that is being offered to fans in an auction to raise funds for Lancashire RFU’s partner charity, Derian House, the children’s hospice in Chorley.

While the opening County Championship game provides a novel vehicle for Lancashire to support their chosen charity, coach Mark Nelson will be especially keen to ensure that neither the shirt project nor the fact that the county game will follow a league game that is critical to the survival hopes of the host club is allowed to deflect his team from the matter in hand.

And while a return to Twickenham on May 29 is the ultimate ambition for Nelson, at this stage he will be satisfied with what many would regard as a more modest target - making sure that the Red Rose is still represented in the premier section of the Bill Beaumont Cup next season.

“That’s my primary driving force on Saturday,” says Nelson: “Of course we want to get back to Twickenham and to win the trophy again, but I think it is going to be a very, very tough pool this season and probably the most competitive we’ve had for a long time. I think the sides will be very equally balanced.

“I’ll be stressing to the players the importance of parking whatever kind of season they’ve had and buying fully into the three county games. It was extremely tight last term, but I suspect Warwickshire will be very tough this time, Cheshire were very competitive last year and could be stronger still and Yorkshire are passionate about County Championship rugby and are always competitive.

“We’re in for three very hard games and we need to be ready for them.”

Lancashire undoubtedly benefitted last season from their shrewd use of the 12 ‘interchanges’ permitted in each match and that greater familiarity with the system in all the counties is sure to impact on this season’s results as the RFU use the Championship to trial the system for a second time.

Given the severity of the winter and the number of postponed club matches, the annual clashes with delayed league rugby are inevitable, a classic demonstration of that coming on Saturday at Whitefield, where Park will play a crunch league game against Macclesfield (2pm) before the Lancashire match, which will start at 3.45pm.

Last season Cheshire were severely handicapped by the loss of players from Caldy, Macclesfield and Stockport, but joint Team Manager David Partington is more upbeat about his side’s prospects this season as he looks ahead to an opening game against Yorkshire at Sheffield RFC.

“Let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic about our chances,” he says: “We still have the same old availability problems to deal with, but we’re not in as big a hole as we were last year, when we responded tremendously well to the difficulties.

“We had players from 15 different clubs representing us in the 22-man squad that faced Lancashire last season, but the players and the coaches were outstanding – I couldn’t believe just how close we came. Had we kicked our goals we could have been at Twickenham it was so close, yet on the final day we could also have been relegated.

“This season we have the relative luxury of having a lot of quality players to choose from and while we always look to stay loyal to the lads who are available for the whole trip, there will be changes as players become available from club commitments. That will happen.

“But everyone is in the same boat as far as I can gather and it looks close. We’d like to think we’ll be competitive. We’ve got the best of Stockport and the best of Caldy, who have both done well this season and we’ve one or two coming in later on from Macclesfield, who have done extremely well.

“I don’t think we’re too far away. Dave Marwick from Stockport will captain the side and he’ll do a great job, while the core of the side will be available throughout the campaign. If we play to our potential, we’ll definitely be in the mix.”

Last season Yorkshire were beaten 18-13 by Cheshire, so there is a score to settle there, while a 30-28 win over Lancashire in the final game provided bragging rights, but did not deny the Red Rose men a place at Twickenham.

Bob Hood is on England Counties Under 20s duties this week and leaves a mid-week session at Yarnbury RFC for the 22-man squad in the hands of John Lawn and Mike Aspinall.

“We look to have a side that is pretty lively with plenty of pace,” says Hood: “We have players from Leeds Carnegie, Wharfedale, Harrogate and Otley essentially. We have some lads who are new to the scene with good track records and some good form this season.

“Dan Cook from Hull will lead the side. Our first task will be to redress the balance against Cheshire having lost to them last season.”

In Pool Two of the Bill Beaumont Cup, North East neighbours Northumberland and Durham meet at Tynedale, while in the County Championship Shield, Cumbria get into action when they tackle Staffordshire at Burton on Trent.

Bill Beaumont Cup

Pool 1 North

May 7: Lancashire v Warwickshire at Sedgley Park (3.45), Yorkshire v Cheshire at Sheffield RUFC (3pm); May 14: Lancashire v Yorkshire at Fylde (3pm), Warwickshire v Cheshire at Coventry (3pm); May 21: Cheshire v Lancashire at Macclesfield (3pm), Yorkshire v Warwickshire at Hull (3pm).

Pool 2 North

May 7: Northumberland v Durham at Tynedale (3pm); May 14: Eastern Counties v Northumberland at Shelford (3pm); May 21: Durham v Eastern Counties at Hartlepool Rovers (3pm).

County Championship Shield

Pool 1

May 7: Staffordshire v Cumbria at Burton on Trent (3pm); May 14: Cumbria v Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire at Penrith (3pm).

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