South Shields Westoe are just one step away from a long-awaited return to Twickenham in the National Intermediate Cup as they head into a huge game this weekend.
Their semi-final opponents are Midlands side Kenilworth who have just gained promotion to Midlands 1 after a comprehensive season, losing only a single match along the way.
This season saw Kenilworth appoint former France and New Zealand defence strategist David Ellis as head coach, showing their desire to move back up through the leagues.
Ellis is one of the most highly-regarded defence coaches in world rugby, having previously worked with Tonga, New Zealand and most notably France at international level, following an extensive and successful playing career in rugby league.
Westoe have Graeme Smith and Chris Judson at the helm and although they may not possess the international credentials of Ellis, they are born and bred local boys who started their careers at Westoe and have the club philosophy coursing through their veins.
Both Smith and Judson have first-hand experience of the Twickenham route, having both played in Westoe’s previous visit in 2005, where they lost a thrilling match against Morley.
Raymie Elliott also appeared in the match and John Younghusband was unlucky to only be a travelling sub on the day and will be extra keen to make it on to the pitch this year.
Westoe field an extremely strong squad, almost all of them coming through the Junior set-up and have shown the benefits of an old-style team, free of the travelling mercenaries, but packed with pride in their home town.
Recent weeks have seen a return to form for Westoe with their powerful pack causing no end of problems for their opponents and a talented back-line threatening scores from all areas of the pitch.
Westoe’s solid defence remains a huge focus and Kenilworth will need something special to break through the determined hits and stoic determination.
Elliott and Haydn Richards return to the front row alongside Ryan Lamb, and captain Andy Kirton returns to the second row with Younghusband. It’s all change in the back-row with Sam Gaff, Joe McKenzie and Alex Wylie all back to complete the dangerous-looking pack.
Judson renews his half-back partnership with Andy Sutherland and Luke Moffett returns to full-back in a backline full of threat.
The solid bench is stacked with first team experience and the side will not suffer any lack of talent when they grace the field.
Despite Kenilworth’s impressive league record, it is worth noting that Westoe’s previous opponents, Bowdon, also had similar league results.
Westoe’s domination in that match highlights the strength of this season’s Durham & Northumberland league which stands them in good stead for a tilt at reaching Twickenham again
Kick-off is at 3pm at the Jack Davies Memorial Ground, CV8 2AJ.