Friday, 7 March 2014

Jersey RFC vs Leeds Carnegie, Leeds Preview

Leeds Carnegie has carried on their fine form of last season where they were beaten in the play offs by ChampionsNewcastle. Despite this, a change of coach was needed with former Rugby League star, and Leeds Rhino’s assistant coach James Lowes crossing codes to take over the Yorkshire giant.

Lowes has been happy with his sides progress, sitting in second place coming into the clash with Jersey, ‘We are progressing well but there is still work to do. The players are growing in confidence, and it is good to see the hard work we have been doing in training coming to fruition on the field.’

Much of Leeds’ success can be attributed to a legend of the game, Sir Ian McGeechan. His experience, which includes coaching on five Lions tours has been invaluable for a young coach like Lowes. ‘Sir Ian is very much leading the club with our ambitions for the future and our plans for Yorkshire Carnegie,’ said Lowes. ‘He and our Director of Rugby Chris Gibson are a great support to the coaching staff.’

Lowes has been credited with the development of many young players in the 13-man code. With the club changing it’s name and looking to envelop more of Yorkshire, the homegrown talent must come to the fore. Lowes said, ‘The long term vision for the club is to create sustainable success at the highest level by developing and retaining the best local talent.’

Former Jersey captain Nathan Hannay was signed by Leeds in the close season. A popular figure on the Island whilst he was here, he has been improving and impressing at his new club.  The head coach stated, ‘Nathan has been going well and has been a key part of our forward squad under the guidance of Tommy McGee and Dave Baldwin. I'm sure Nathan is looking forward to going back to Jersey.’

Last season:

An indifferent start to last season saw Leeds lose two of their first four matches, before a fifty point battering by Newcastle. They got their season back on track with a brace of wins before a shock home defeat to new boys Jersey in the cup, which stunned the home faithful. Never able to get a decent run of results together it was very much a case of two steps forward and one back for Carnegie pre-Christmas, despite playing some scintillating rugby at times. A narrow defeat to Newcastle at home and a poor display against Doncaster gave the Yorkshire men the kick they needed and they went on a six game winning run, taking them up to fourth and the play offs. Beating Newcastle 24-19 in the first semi-final was a massive result, but the regular season leaders sadly had just enough to win the second leg 15-6, on their way to promotion.

The season so far:

Leeds Carnegie may well have a new name for next season, and they may well have a new division in which to play if they maintain their current form. With former Jersey players David Doherty and once Captain Nathan Hannay, Leeds have topped the table and currently sit in second place.

They started the current term slowly, losing the One Big Weekend clash with Nottingham, one of only four league defeats the Yorkshire outfit have suffered this season, getting back on track with a pair of wins on the road against Pirates andBedford before demolishing Ealing at Headingley. Hannay scored his first Leeds try against Gala in the British and Irish Cup, the first of 14 that day, as Leeds put over 80 points on the beleaguered Scottish side. London Welsh became the first, and thus far only side to beat Leeds at home, and then LondonScottish took the spoils, but only after fellow Yorkshire high flyers Rotherham were dispatched. Jersey was beaten in the first of eight straight wins, including four British and Irish games, putting them comfortably in the quarter finals.

Welsh then did the double at the Kassam Stadium 19-10, but this only preceded another purple patch where Leeds put a half-century of points on Bedford, 46 against Ealing and 62 against Moseley, and last weekends win over Scottish has cemented their place in an exceedingly tight top four.

Previous with Jersey:

Jersey’s first ever away match in the Championship saw them up against the once mighty Leeds at Headingley. Despite trailing early on, a Michael Le Bourgeois try, the first at this level, had put Jersey ahead, but they went in 13-all at half time. Leeds was to prove too strong in the second period, and overpowered the new boys with two second half tries to prevail 32-19.

A second trip to Yorkshire, this time played at York RFC’s home ground in the British and Irish Cup, came hot on the heels of a Jersey draw with Pontypridd, ending a run of six straight defeats, and The Reds were to go one better this time. Le Bourgeois put the Islanders ahead early on with the first of his five successful first half penalty kicks, but despite Leeds responding with a try, Jersey actually led 15-10 at the break. The second half also bore early fruit as a penalty and a Guy Thompson try gave Jersey a 13 point lead. Leeds hit back with their second seven pointer, but when Donovan Sanders crossed for Jersey’s second with ten minutes left, Jersey sensed the win. Incessant Leeds pressure saw two Jersey players in the sin bin, and when Leeds crossed to reduce the deficit to six with three minutes to go, nerves were frayed, but they held on to massively increase confidence for both the team and their battle weary supporters.

Back at St Peter Jersey were hopeful of another league win, but when trailing 3-10 at the break on a more than heavy pitch to Doherty’s try, the signs did not look good. Leeds laid siege to Jersey’s line in the second half and were unlucky not to have gone further ahead, before a Thompson break led to a Max Stelling try. Jersey was now the side on top and minutes later were awarded first a penalty try, and then a penalty gave them a ten point lead. But as Jersey fans are well aware, the team appear to thrive on late drama, conceding a second to Doherty with five to go, but the Reds held on to win by three.

The return British and Irish Cup game was a disappointing affair, with neither team able to progress. Leeds had scored three tries without reply in the first half and their 22 point lead was to prove insurmountable, especially when they notched a fourth try early in the second period. To their credit Jersey did respond, and the pack applied sufficient pressure to score a brace of penalty tries as the Yorkshire men collected a pair of yellow cards and a red as they struggled to contain the Islanders power, but ultimately Leeds prevailed 27-12.

On to this season and the Headingley encounter once again saw old boy Doherty score against his previous employers, but despite a second Leeds try, Mark McCreareduced the deficit to 12-10 at the break. Jersey were to score only one penalty in the second half despite all their efforts, but four from Leeds and a late Josh Griffin score put the game well out of reach, finishing 29-13 as Leeds continued their fine run of form.

Leeds Carnegie, Ones to watch:

David Doherty

Position: Full back/wing
DoB: 28/10/87
Height: 183cm
Weight: 83kg

Former Jersey player Doherty will always be remembered fondly by the Islanders after his one season at the club when he helped gain promotion to National One, scoring the final try in the play-off victory over Loughborough students with his final touch off the ball. Beginning his career at Leeds, he left to join Wasps after they were relegated and spent two seasons with the London club before moving to Sale Sharks. then to Pirates in 2010, he subsequently topped the try scorers charts that season with 14 before returning to his Yorkshire roots in 2012. 13 tries saw him one behind top spot and another fine season has seen him cross the whitewash nine times already this term.

Position: Centre/Full back
DoB: 30/06/1993
Height: 183cm
Weight: 85kg

Sharing the kicking duties with Glyn Hughes has meant that Lozowski sits in fifth place in the points scorers chart, rather than challenging the prolific Rotherham star Juan Socino. Lozowski, a former footballer was released by Chelsea aged 16 after spending six seasons with the European Champions. The son of former England centre Rob is also studying for an economics degree at Leeds University. Moving to the Wasps Academy after Chelsea, his rugby has flourished despite a broken leg whilst in London. Lozowski made the England students side last season, and is highly thought of at Headingley.


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Pirates V Jersey. Ian Davies interview

The Cornish Pirates have had a tricky few weeks with recent defeats costing them a real shot at the top four play offs this season writes James Hewlett. A cracking start that saw them win seven of their first nine matches, before a memorable finish by Jersey at St Peter giving the Islanders a much needed four points, gave the Pirates’ supporters false hope that they could challenge for the top spots once again.

Head Coach Ian Davies has been quite pragmatic about the whole situation. ‘It's where we are as squad’, he said. He continued, ‘I said at the start of the year it would be a roller coaster. People look at the results and see four defeats but they need to be taken in the context of where they are in the season, all four of them on the road, and one in the British and Irish Cup when we had already qualified for the Quarter Finals. Long term injuries to senior players hasn't helped, but has meant more game time for younger players.’

Davies believed that whilst he has a good side, this was not to be a stellar season for the Cornishmen. ‘We were never realistically going to finish in the top four this year. It is easy for people to get carried away after a few early season results. We are a mid-table squad that on it's day can beat anyone else in this league.’

With the play-offs out of the question, the focus has switched to other avenues. Davies has controversially stated, ‘I've publicly said that the British and Irish Cup is now our priority. This has upset some supporters but they are not looking at the season as a whole, the stages of development (through the cup campaign) that this squad need so they can flourish and prosper in future years will be invaluable.’ 

This will be the fourth time the sides have clashed this season, with the Pirates having held the upper hand for much of the three previous games. Davies does not believe this is now relevant, and rates Jersey as a much better side than their lowly league position suggests, especially with a new Head Coach settling in. Davies said, ‘Well of course Harvey Biljon was assistant coach here at the Pirates for four years so will know a lot about us. I'm sure he is constructing a game plan to trouble us as he strives to stave off the threat of relegation. With the squad Jersey has relegation should not be a worry really. For us, we have two wins and a defeat (against Jersey) but we really have only played 100 minutes of decent rugby over those three matches.’

Plenty then for both coaches to work on, both before, during and after this game, and Davies highlighted several Jersey players he will instruct his charges to keep a close eye on. ‘Dai Bishop has been consistently good,’ he said. ‘(Niall) O'Connor is a very good goal kicker, (Mark) McCrea is a dangerous runner and Tom Brown is a very strong ball carrier. It goes without saying we know how good the former Pirates in the Jersey squad can be – Drew Locke, Grant Pointer, Nicky Griffiths, Aaron Penberthy, Ben Maidment and Joe Buckle.’ It is unlikely that all the former players will be given a chance on Saturday, but those who do will be anxious to do well on their old stamping ground, and give Jersey a much needed buffer over Ealing Trailfinders at the bottom.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Jersey RFC versus Nottingham Rugby Preview

Who Jersey is facing

Nottingham Rugby
Head Coach: Martin Haag
Home Ground: Meadow Lane
Founded: 1877
Last season: Second

Nottingham: Last season:

Nottingham had a hugely successful 2012/13 season in stark contrast to this campaign. They began with a fantastic 34-29 win over Leeds in a pulsating match, their first opening day win since 2005, and this set the tone for the season. A second win over Moseley followed before a brace of defeats brought the Green and Whites back to earth. This preceded one of the finest runs of form seen in the division all season as they scored over 250 points in six games, with Jersey, London Scottish and Doncaster receiving heavy beatings, not to mention a quite remarkable 63-7 win over fancied Bristol. A narrow defeat against the Cornish Pirates still left Nottingham handily placed come the turn of the year, and they kicked on with eight wins in ten matches. Nottingham finished second in the table, their highest ever Championship finish, and faced off against Bedford for the chance to win promotion to the Premiership. In the first leg at Goldington Road, Nottingham was 10-9 up at half time. Bedford raised their game in the second half and looked set for a comfortable win, but a last gasp penalty try and conversion by Nottingham reduced the gap to only nine points in a 26-17 defeat. Back at Meadow Lane, there was hope that the deficit could be overcome but in front over 3000 supporters (one of their biggest attendances at this ground) a first half collapse meant that they were 30 points adrift on aggregate at the interval. Three second half tries and a late near miss were not to be enough as a 21-23 defeat on the night and 38-49 on aggregate, meant that it was Bedford that faced the Falcons in the final.

Nottinham's season so far:

Nothing could prepare the Green and Whites faithful for the season of struggle that was to follow. Turmoil off the pitch created its own problems, a massively reduced budget could only mean cuts, and seeing many of their top players leaving, replaced by relative unknowns in Championship circles, meant that a side that finished with the second highest points scorer in the league (James Arlidge), and two of the top six try scorers (Captain Brent Wilson with 13 was only one from the top) was destined to struggle in a division in which all the sides had strengthened considerably. Despite this a quite stunning opening day win, again over Leeds, was one of, if not the highlight of their season to date. They then went on a run of six straight defeats, starting with a 46-19 drubbing by London Welsh and included a hugely significant defeat to Jersey; the Islanders only away win of the campaign so far. A poor performance in defeat at Moseley was sandwiched between two tight home wins, against fellow strugglers Bedford, and Jekyll and Hyde side, Plymouth. A losing bonus point was gained away at high-flying Rotherham in a fine performance, before a 27 all draw with the Cornish Pirates as the Green and Whites began to find some form. A draw was the least Nottingham deserved, but it was only gained with the last kick of the game. Stirling County were beaten in the British and Irish cup, home and away, with the 50 points scored in the game in Scotland marking a season high. With results off the pitch improving, (four wins and a draw from seven games), the off pitch troubles were looking healthy also. New owners stepped in on Christmas Eve, a 15 strong consortium called ‘The Friends of Nottingham Rugby’ stumped up the money to save the club from liquidation and ensured that they could compete in the Championship for at least another three seasons.

On the pitch however, things have continued to be painful. After Leeds exacted some form of revenge, a home defeat by bottom side Ealing has dragged Nottingham down into the relegation mire, despite a Brent Wilson hat-trick gaining both a losing bonus and try bonus point. Two defeats in the cup ended their involvement with a whimper, before a bonus point was gained in an unfortunate defeat to Bedford. A great win at home to Scottish last weekend in the mud has given them a great platform but Jersey has a great chance to get a result here today.

Previous with Jersey:

It was a far different Nottingham side that greeted the Reds to Meadow Lane on Ladies Day, than the side Jersey face today. In a rich vein of form, and playing with power pace and with bags of experience, Jersey were ripped apart, conceding five tries to one in a 48-16 defeat.  A Michael Le Bourgeois try and conversion, plus two penalties kept Jersey in within ten points at the interval, but the second half was all one way as Nottingham inflicted Jersey’s sixth straight defeat in their debut season.

The return match at St Peter was notable for an initial postponement due to bad weather making pitch one unplayable, so there was added interest when the sides did eventually clash. Jersey was a vastly different side than in the first encounter, both in personal as well as confidence. The much-feared Jersey pack had found their feet in the Championship, and they had the home side in front, with a penalty try, and a second could and possibly should have been awarded. But with Nottingham on the back foot and with two men in the sin bin, Jersey strangely refused the scrum and took a lineout, which came to nothing, losing momentum and the advantage. Two second half tries from the visitors put paid to a win that was definitely attainable, but a losing bonus point was salvaged with two penalties from Le Bourgeois, the second with only minutes left and from fully 40 yards out, against a side who were to finish comfortably in the play-off positions.

The away fixture this season saw a depleted Nottingham score an early try, but were never in control of a fixture they had dominated a year previously. Three Niall O’Conner penalties kept Jersey within striking distance and were only 13-9 down at the break. Jersey began to turn the screw and when Nott’s were reduced to 14, Mark McCrea took advantage to give the Islanders the lead for the first time. With the score 22-19 to the Reds, a massive show of strength in the forwards saw two yellows awarded to the home side once again. But like last season no points were gained and momentum swung back to the hosts. With only a couple of minutes on the clock, Nottingham turned down a pair of kickable penalties, instead going for the winning score from lineouts. But Jersey’s defence held firm, as the win continued their fine start to the season.

Ones to watch: Nottingham

Brent Wilson
Position: Flanker
DoB: 09/09/1981
Height: 191cm
Weight: 110kg

New Zealander Wilson is perhaps best known for his time with Newcastle Falcons where he spent four Premiership seasons racking up over 100 appearances between 2006 and 2011. The former NZ sevens star then signed for Nottingham and quickly became club captain. His 13 league tries last season, placed him second in the try scorers charts and earned him player of the year at Nottingham and a place in the Championship Dream Team. This season, despite all their struggles he has continued to lead from the front with fine performances and has crossed the whitewash an impressive eight times, despite a barren start of none in the first eleven matches.

Position: Fly-Half
DoB: 25/08/1990
Height: 193cm
Weight: 98kg

Former Wales U18 and U20 international Jarvis, joined Nottingham Rugby at the start of the 2013/2014 season from RaboDirect Pro12 outfit Connacht. The Welsh fly-half, who can also play at full-back and centre, has Heineken Cup experience from his time there, and has an incredible kicking boot from the tee. Despite Nottingham’s struggles, he is currently third in the Championship point scorers chart and second for penalties kicked overall. With distance rarely an issue for Jarvis, the Meadow Lane faithful have already been treated to some spectacular kicks at goal from the half way line this season. Jarvis’ boot has already gained Nottingham points on several occasions this season. Any Jersey indiscipline will be punished.

Position: Second Row/Back Row
DoB: 10/09/1983
Height: 196cm
Weight: 118kg

The powerful Australian is in his second spell for the Green and Whites having starred for Bristol for three seasons at number eight, where he notched up 82 appearances, scoring eight tries. The ex Aussie-rules player was signed by the Leicester Tigers academy on arriving in England. Nottingham pounced to re-sign the player who had scored eleven tries in 75 appearances for them before leaving for Bristol, who then decided to release him two months after he penned a one-year extension to his contract. The powerful second row has now played over 110 games for Nottingham, where his versatility has become vital to his club. The former back row has both strength and commitment, and this makes him irreplaceable in a side struggling for form.

Position: Scrum-half
DoB: 27/07/85
Height: 178cm
Weight: 87kg

Another New Zealander in the Nottingham ranks, the former Highlanders Super Rugby player forged a strong partnership with the prolific fly-half James Arlidge last season. The 26-year-old has started all but one game since he signed last season, and was also employed by the world's most famous invitational side last month as he made a fine debut in the Barbarians' win over Loughborough Students. Born in Christchurch, Romans played in the New Zealand Provincial Cup, for Otago, as well as Super 14 Rugby. He also has two international caps, having played for the Junior All Blacks in 2009 in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup. Scoring four tries this season, three in the cup, he is a key player in the Nottingham rebuilding process.

Interview with Nottingham's Chairman Alistair Bow and Head Coach Martin Haag.

Much like Jersey this season, the management at Nottingham Rugby genuinely believes this season has been one of underachievement. Rewind 18 months and the club was set for one of its best seasons, finishing second in the Championship. That disappointment paled into insignificance when the major shareholders could no longer fund the shortfall at the club, leaving Nottingham precariously placed. With little to no funding, the club had no option but to cut costs drastically. Reaching Christmas their standing had become untenable and they faced the very real prospect of liquidating the club. Fortunately, a consortium of Nottingham Rugby fans and businessmen pooled their resources, and saved the club from oblivion.

Nottingham Chairman Alistair Bow was open and honest about what has been arguably the most tumultuous period in the clubs recent history. ‘For the last twelve months it has been a very difficult time,’ he said. After the shareholders made their decision it was backs to the wall.’ Bow stated, ‘The club was funded by the previous shareholders and the current board of directors. It got to the stage at Christmas where it had become untenable as there was no more money to put in. If we hadn’t have done what we did, the club would have folded. A new consortium of 15, which included the previous shareholders and directors, called the Friends of Nottingham Rugby, took custodianship of the club and agreed to fund it for the next three years.’

Since finishing second, there have been few good days on the pitch, with only four league wins to date. Bow disagrees that the downturn has been purely to do with a lack of money. ‘Funding has got a part to do with that,’ he said, ‘But it’s not the only reason. Last year came on the back of two or three very good seasons. The squad was playing at the top of their game, but at the end of last season we lost four or five players to Premiership teams, and quite a few first team players to retirement, which put quite a strain on the first team squad.’

Just as Jersey has found out this year, a good team cannot just be thrown together and expected to play cohesively. Bow agreed both clubs have similar issues. ‘We do not have the finances available to pay the big bucks to replace the quality and caliber of player we have developed over the last three or four years, and it takes a good while to get the squad to gel and learn to play together.’

Nottingham Head Coach Martin Haag agreed that it was always going to be a transitional season for them. ‘It’s no secret that there were things happening behind the scenes which have meant us having to be careful with our resources,’ he said. ‘But we were still happy with the players we brought in.  We bought in some good pros, and supplemented them with a number of young talents who were eager to cut their teeth at this level.  We have had to work with a much smaller squad, so we’ve been on a learning curve this season.’

Whilst Haag agrees Saturday is an important match, the result would not define their season. He stated, ‘A win against Jersey would be a big plus for us, but we won’t be looking at it from a relegation perspective.  We know that we can compete with, and beat any team in this league on our day, so we’ll trust in our processes to get the results we need.’