Local rivalry should spur North Walsham and Holt on
After years of playing their rugby at very different levels North Walsham and Holt will be competing in the same division this term – and both will be aiming to get off to a winning start tomorrow.
The north Norfolk neighbours were separated by two divisions as recently as last season, with Walsham in London 1N and Holt in London 3NE.
But while the Vikings were being relegated in heartbreaking fashion on the final day of the season the Owls were already looking forward to a new challenge in London 2NE, having secured their second successive promotion.
Holt start their campaign with a trip to the bottom of the M11 to take on Woodford. Tomorrow's opponents will be complete unknowns, but coaches Ed Steed and Penny Chapman are not worried about that.
'We know nothing about them and I assume they will have the same problem,' said Steed. 'We have been preparing well with good numbers at training and with two pre-season victories. I believe we are in a good place going into this fixture.'
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The Owls have had two good seasons, but this is their first test at a higher level and they will be looking for a good start.
'We want a win from the first game,' added Chapman. 'It would have been nice to start the campaign at home but that's the luck of the draw. We have prepared well and as long as the boys put in the effort and have the desire they did last year I'm sure we can start the season with a victory.'
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Walsham begin life in the division with a home game against Enfield Ignations.
The Middlesex side will be a completely unknown quantity for the hosts, but will have to be taken extremely seriously as they finished well up the table last season.
While some clubs suffer an exodus of players when relegation strikes the effect has been minimal at Scottow. Jamie Burroughs, who missed all bar the first couple of games last season with injury, has joined Diss, a logical move as it is much closer to home for him. Bruce van Poortvliet, another with long-term injuries, has returned to his home club of Holt, while brothers Nick and Laurence Austin have gone to Norwich.
On the plus side a decent number of young players are moving up from the junior ranks and there are some university returnees.
Pre-season for the Scottow outfit has been fairly low key, but in the past three weeks there has been a noticeable upping of the tempo.
Meaningful friendly fixtures have been hard to find and Nick Greenhall was unwilling to put young and inexperienced players up against hardened older players at a more senior level.
However, a good run-out against Old Albanians second XV and the annual fixture against Southwold have shown that there should be the manpower to get the side off to a good start.
With Mark McCall back in training, but still recovering from the broken ankle suffered at the end of last season, the hooking duties could fall to one of Tim Mason, Dom Roberts or Ben Campbell, but youngsters Aaron Beaumont and Ollie Ware will push them hard as the season progresses.
Others likely to push for front row slots are Seb Roberts, Barney Sands and Will Love. The back five will have a familiar look, with all last year's practitioners in the frame, and young Matty Norfolk-Clarke on the fringes.
The scrum-half slot will likely be contested by Dean Blyth and Henry Dewing while outside half Jamie Forrester is back at least until the end of the year.