RUGBY: Warwickshire Shield derby at Ashlawn Road

Action from Lions last pre-season warm-up against Dunlop (picture Eric Wright)

Action from Lions last pre-season warm-up against Dunlop (picture Eric Wright)

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Rugby St Andrews v Rugby Lions, tomorrow (Saturday) 3pm

Webb Ellis Road is steeped in history and tradition, a somewhat chequered past that has seen its fair share of ups and downs.

Happily, last Saturday was very much an up, a wonderful day for all in attendance, writes player coach Rob Dignum.

Lions’ rise in its more recent times has been nothing short of mesmeric both on and off the field.

Saturday saw the fielding of two senior sides for the first time in almost three years, no mean feat considering everything that has gone before.

Lions’ coaching staff had worked tirelessly to ensure that the Development team was up and running, this made all the more tough with 17 players still unavailable for selection.

The Development faced Dunlop 2nd XV, a typically tough and uncompromising Coventry side that had already played two fixtures.

The side was led out by Jim Gurling, who was exemplary in his leadership amidst a side that had played little rugby together as a team prior to the weekend.

To a man the side were fantastic and should all be really proud of their efforts against strong opposition.

Lions raced into an early lead courtesy of national sprinter Ciaran Wardle, who will no doubt feature heavily for Lions this season.

The game ebbed and flowed as both sides took turns to run in scores. For the large part of the game the scores were locked at 12-12 until Dunlop scored late on to take the spoils 12-19. The result was largely inconsequential with Lions’ faithful ecstatic at seeing two sides take the field once again.

Special mention should go to Leslie James, Karl Izzard and Karl Chopski who all had an industrious day!

Then to the main game, Lions versus Dunlop. Last season Dunlop played their league rugby in Midlands 2, some three leagues higher than Lions and had won the Senior Cup at Twickenham in 2010. They were going to be a handful.

At the end of last season, with Dunlop relegated and Lions promoted, it meant that the sides were just one league apart, an opportunity to see how far they had come in a short space of time.

During Lions’ successful 2013-14 campaign, the squad swept all before them: teams from Midlands 5, 4 and even the odd Midlands 2 side. Midlands 3 opposition, however, presented a fresh challenge; one that many in the management were fretful of, if honest.

The Lions raced into an early lead, scoring their first try after just two minutes and scores were quickly added as Lions took charge going in at half time, having scored four tries to lead 28-5.

Dunlop were shocked. This was not quite in their plan as Lions’ forwards took charge and the backline ran amok.

Lions scored a further three tries in the second period to Dunlop’s one, to run out emphatic winners 49-12. In truth, further tries went begging and the score could have been more; if anyone would have offered us a 50-point victory at the breakfast table on Saturday, however, we would likely have snapped their hand off.

Management, coaching staff and most importantly all the players, however, realise that this was nothing to get too carried away about, that feet must stay firmly on the ground and that each week is all part of an ongoing learning experience as the side grow in ability and confidence.

Warwickshire Shield v

Rugby St Andrews

I strongly believe that last Saturday’s fine display will likely have absolutely no bearing whatsoever as Lions look forward to their next fixture, however.

Against Dunlop, we were the underdogs, at home and were somewhat the surprise package as Dunlop assumed victory.

Away from home, against a buoyant St Andrews, hell bent on getting one up on their neighbours in the quarter-final of the Warwickshire Shield, will be a different beast altogether.

Andrews are a good side that are getting stronger from one season to the next and do not really need any motivation to turn over The Lions.

They provided a hatful of players to the District side that were victorious at the end of last season; I expect it to be the toughest opposition I have faced in a Lions jersey to date.

If we are going to be successful all support will likely be needed at Ashlawn Road at 3pm on Saturday.

Failing that, come and cheer on the Lions Development, who welcome Syston to Webb Ellis Road, again 3pm kick off… Happy times!

RUGBY ST ANDREWS

Saints third warm up game was against Old Wheatleyans who were strong promotion challengers in Midlands West 3 last season and, in 3 out of 4 sessions, were clearly the more organised outfit.

The early season unavailability of six of last year’s first choice forwards, mainly through injury, including inspirational skipper Billy Butlin and the whole back row, means that there are first team places up for grabs. For an hour coach Wayne Morgan juggled the resources to find the best mix and, although there was plenty of individual effort, Old Wheats capitalised on Saint’s lack of control and composure to run in 4 tries to the home side’s solitary effort.

For the final quarter Saints started out with their strongest available team and the dynamics changed. The forwards were more dominant providing the backs with a better supply of front foot possession which they used well and were unlucky to be restricted to the only score of the session. They will need to carry forward that level of commitment into Saturday’s cup tie against a revitalised and confident Rugby Lions.

Saints have been amongst the leading teams in East Midlands 3 since their move from the West but this promises to be the most challenging season yet with so many influential and experienced players sidelined for the foreseeable future. On a more positive note there was a welcome reappearance of Mark Brightwell and Martin Valentine, who, although short of match fitness, showed what the team has been missing and will no doubt feature strongly in this year’s campaign.