Rugby preview: Alnwick v West Hartlepool

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Jonny Boatman in action for West against Cleckheaton at Brinkburn.
CAPTAIN MARVEL: Jonny Boatman in action for West against Cleckheaton at Brinkburn.

DIRECTOR of rugby Kevan Oliphant fears another tough match for West Hartlepool when they visit Alnwick tomorrow (kick-off 2.15pm).

On paper, a visit to Greensfield should be straight forward, especially given they are playing a team in the lower reaches of North One East seven days after pushing champions elect Cleckheaton all the way.

Third-placed West should be too good for Alnwick, who are down in eighth and still in danger of the drop, but Oliphant expects a difficult afternoon, especially after the way the Northumberland team took apart Wheatley Hills last Saturday.

Also, they have only conceded one try in the last 160 minutes, meaning they are strong at both ends of the park.

While Hills are not the power they once were, a trip to that Doncaster location is still a formidable assignment.

But Alnwick won 31-7, a scoreline which has made West sit up and take notice.

“The result was a bit of a shock,” smiled Oliphant,

“It’s going to be another tough match on the road for us.

“We know the type of game Alnwick like to play – they have a good set of backs and will look to move the ball around.

“We’ll have to be at our best.”

Despite the degree of difficulty of the journey up the A1, it represents an excellent chance for West to put some pressure on Huddersfield YMCA in the promotion race.

Cleckheaton are as good as up as champions, while YMCA are favourites to be runners-up and contest the promotion play-off against the second-placed club in North One West.

Huddersfield are eight points above West – effectively two wins – but that could change by 4pm tomorrow as they have to visit Cleckheaton.

“If the game goes to form then you’d think Cleckheaton would win,” Oliphant added.

“So, it’s imperative we win at Alnwick to close the gap again.

“We still have to go to Huddersfield YMCA and there are a lot of hard games for both of us before the end of the season.

“We need to win tomorrow to give us a chance of keeping in touch and just look to pick up as many points as we can in the remaining matches.

“I do think if we can stay unbeaten until the end of the season then we’d have a good chance of finishing in second place.”

The West supremo said the squad were a “bit flat” after the 17-10 loss to Clecky but says they are now up for a return to action.

“We were a bit disappointed last week,” Oliphant told SportMail.

“We felt given the score at half-time and the possession we then had that it was a game we could have won.

“But we’ve stressed this week to the lads that we were up against the team who are going to be champions and we are not a million miles away.

“Clecky are a very experienced and well-drilled side who have been together for the last five or six years.

“From our perspective, we have a predominantly young side with some of the lads having their first full season at this level.

“We’ve got to take heart from last Saturday.”

West have made two changes to their starting XV.

Skipper Dan Boatman will miss the match with a shoulder injury which forced him to come off last weekend.

Andrew Turner, who has had an excellent first season in the league squad, will start in the back row alongside fellow teenager Sam Miller and the evergreen Jonny Boatman, who leads the side.

Colin Cheslin has recovered from injury and will come in at full-back with Luke Mallinson switching to the wing.

Peter Youll steps down to the bench where he sits alongside Jay Corbett and Durham U21 prop Jack Angus.

West: C Cheslin, S Butcher, A Cheslin L Bailey, L Mallinson, S Waites, R Painter, I Pinchen, A Rollins, A Coates, M Hogan, O Bennett, A Turner, J Boatman (capt), S Miller. Subs: P Youll, J Corbett, J Angus

l AFTER last week’s, 15-10 victory at Prudhoe, Hartlepool entertain third-placed Redcar at Mayfield Park (kick-off 2.15pm).

When the two sides met at Mackinlay Park last October, a late try for the home side gave the scoreline a slightly flattering look with Redcar winning 17-6.

Redcar will start as favourites after winning on their last two visits to Mayfield Park, but the young Pool squad is training well and starting to play to a structured game plan and confidence is on the up.

If Pool continue in the same vein as last week, they could threaten Redcar.

Pool name a squad, with the starting line-up being finalised before the kick off.

The Pool second team entertain Blaydon in a Durham Cup tie tomorrow.