SSE ENGLISH CLUBS CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEWS
IT may be only mid-March, but Oxford Harlequins could well be celebrating landing the South West 1 East title tomorrow night.
If Quins win their derby clash at Grove, and nearest rivals Towcestrians fail to beat Windsor, Steve Chadbone’s side will be uncatchable with four games still to play.
“We might celebrate after the game, but we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” said Quins’ head of rugby.
“We still need seven points to be sure and won’t relax until the job is done,” added Chadbone, who has been unhappy with recent performances.
“It’s been difficult to get the boys up for every game,” he said. “This has led certain overeagerness in our play.”
Quins will be boosted by the return of fly half Zac Norris, who missed last week’s Oxfordshire Cup semi-final victory over Witney with a knee injuury.
The New Zealander has not only been the club’s main play-maker, but is also the leading points-scorer in the division.
Quins, who only beat Grove 23-17 in the first meeting, are wary of their opponents’ pace on the wings.
Grove have suffered a blow with fly half Roger Sevier breaking a finger in the defeat at Windsor last week – an injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season.
Henry Day will switch from centre to stand-off.
Grove head coach Craig Burrows: “We’ll try to make Quins wait another week for the title.”
Chinnor’s player coach Matt Goode is convinced the club will avoid the drop from National 2 South, even though they contrived to lose another close game on Saturday.
They conceded a soft late try to go down 35-31 at home to Ampthill.
“We played really well for 75 minutes, but then paid for losing concentation,” said Goode, whose side travel to Southend tomorrow.
“We’ve made a massive improvemnt in the last couple of weeks, and if we maintain our overall standard, we will beat Southend.”
Dave Manning replaces London Welsh loanee Billy Moss at loosehead prop for Henley Hawks’ trip to Blackheath in National 1.
Ian Williams comes in for Alex Penny at tighthead, with another prop, Ruari McLeod slotting in on the bench.
Robbie Stapley moves to No 8, with captain Matt Payne at blindside flanker.
Scrum half Ollie Frost, another loan signing from Welsh, returns on the bench.
Henley Hawks (v Blackheath, away): Yarnton, Bart, T Allen, Wells, Andre, Comben, Carter, Manning, Dwyer, Will-iams, McNally, Clements, Payne, (capt), Newman, R Stapley. Reps: McLeod, Penny, Woodward, Denbee, Frost.
Chinnor (v Southend, away): from Mountford, G Blewitt, Fielding, Goode, Hayes, Millett, Jones, Cano, Vickers, Pick-ett, Smith, Tibbatts, Betts, Jope, Aiono, Hirskyj-Douglas, Barnes, Winpenny, Townsend, Gilbert (capt).
Grove (v Oxford Harlequins, home): Lewis, Carr, N Sevier, Bellinger, G Nicholl, Day, J Chivers, Eckert (capt), Dixey, C Chivers, Peel, Miles, Law, Wells, Gratwohl. Reps: Wallbridge, Walsh, Clipsham.
Oxford Harlequins (v Grove, away): Hilton, Robinson, Lee, Fisilau, Goggins, Norris, Jones, Marshall, Edney, Boulton, Brown (capt), Purchase, Battson, Ward Tupou. Reps: from Si Chadbone, Clayton, Neal, Johnstone.