Westoe v Morley 25th Sept match preview.
WESTOE confront visitors Morley tomorrow which for a quartet of players in the home team line-up will have a special edge. Centre David Haswell, lock Paul Bird, scrum half Chris Judson and prop Raymie Elliott are never likely to forget an overcast April day in 2005 when the same teams met at Twickenham in the final of the Intermediate Cup.
Although the Shieldsmen - who had already won the North Two (East) championship in that memorable season - had more possession and did most of the attacking they lost 21-11 due almost entirely to the sublime kicking of ex-Welsh fly half Colin Stephens that rained on their parade.
Captain Gareth Nesbit, who misses his third game this term with a broken toe, told me back then: “It was a fine game played in good spirit and we can’t begrudge them the cup.
“But it was a bitter blow that will always rankle and you can bet that from now on when we meet we will be after a bit of our own back.”
So it has been and, so I am told, it still is.
On the face of it, Dunes Adventure Island-sponsored Westoe, with home advantage, should be firm favourites, having won the first three games of this National 2 North campaign in pretty good style while newly-promoted Morley have yet to gather a point.
Except, of course, that things don’t work out like that and such antecedence will count for nothing with what is a new and manifestly harmonious training regime and, five years being a long time in any sport, a squad largely untouched by the pain of that leaden-skied day.
However, a dash of revenge-seeking by those who do remember won’t come amiss.
The game is being sponsored by club stalwart Phil Haswell, whose splendid action photos of Westoe appear each week in the Gazette, and his wife Chris in memory of his parents Les and Doreen.
Family news is that their son David again captains the side in the absence of the injured Nesbit and his younger brother Graeme, recovering from a torn cruciate ligament, expects to be playing again after Christmas.
Barring late injuries or complications, there is only one change to the starting 15 that beat hosts Preston Grasshoppers convincingly 34-8 on Saturday, the terrier-like Haydn Richards, normally a back row player, replacing the unavailable Nigel Douglas as hooker.
Although there is competition in all other areas, for instance, the most admirable Jonathon Okwe-Pearson, who missed the last game, must now wait on the bench because of strength in the back row, there appears to be a problem with the vital number 2 jersey.
Doubtless, director of rugby Andy Howells is on the case.
His verdict after the 34-8 win at Preston Grasshoppers on Saturday was that newly-arrived player-coach Mark Bedworth, who marshalled the backs splendidly as well as kicking all four conversions and two long-distance penalties, was “simply outstanding”.
No argument there, but more importantly he said that Bedworth, who instructs the backs, and Andy Buist, in charge of the forwards, have quickly nurtured an all-important rapport with the players. He said: “They like and respect each other, and that is good.”
*For the statistically minded, I can report that Gareth Nesbit, in his seventh year at the helm, has topped 250 First X1 appearances for Westoe in league and cup games since his debut season at the beginning of the millennium.
I would guess, in the absence of earlier records, that few in the dark blue, sky blue and red colours can match such an achievement which, moreover, has been as a prop in the muscle-jarring engine room as his team has risen steadily via three promotions and with increasing physical demands to the English game‘s hierarchy.
Let’s salute him; he’s a heck of a one-club guy and his side’s talisman during the most momentous decade in the club’s 135-year history. Memo to the committee: think inscribed tankard at the very least - filled with champagne.