So, with two of the five friendlies now played, how are things looking? Do we have any better idea as to what the final 22 for the Wharfedale game might look like. Alternatively, are we still very much in the experimental phase, with Scott Morgan and his team as yet undecided on a number of key positions across the team?
Well, it was obvious from the remark Scott made on Tuesday that the season really starts with the game against Cardiff this Saturday. Having used the tried and tested 3 or 4 sessions each of 20 minutes in the first two games, I rather suspect it will be two halves of 40 minutes, with fewer players making an appearance on the pitch. I hope so, because there are now only three games before Wharfedale and the players who will be playing in that game really should be getting as much game time as possible, or so it seems to me.
At this stage, I have to own up to not being at the ground yesterday; the result of me agreeing to a date to meet friends in a conversation across rooms whilst my wife was on the phone and I was ‘working’ on the computer, thinking about other things. I was caught off guard and had said yes as a reflex, believing the said date was mid-week. I won’t get caught out like that again! That said, my son went and kindly amassed a lot of information which he duly passed on to me in that sort of ‘call yourself a true fan’ way he has, so at least I have a reasonably good idea of what happened in the game.
Anyway, it’s always fun to second guess what the selectors might be thinking, so here’s my predictions with less than half the friendlies played! Too early, but here goes.
Firstly, the team selection yesterday was interesting, with fewer players used than against Broadstreet, perhaps an indication that the coaching staff have had a good look at the trialists and have been able to thin the squad down as a result. The starting XV offer us some clues:
1 Andy Brown
2 Devlin Hope
3 Chad Thorne
4 Tom Poole
5 Courtney Roberts
6 Danny Wright
7 Alex Woodburn
8 Sam Pailor
9 Wayne Evans capt
10 Mtt Jones
11 Peter Weightman
12 Rob Knox
13 James Tincknell
14 Dom Lespierre
15 Scott Hamilton
With Price, Wolfsenden, La Roux and Hodgson unavailable, that would look like a very strong and competitive XV and I don’t think it will look too dissimilar from the team sheet pinned up on the team noticeboard for the Wharfedale game (is that how it’s still done?).
If La Roux was fully fit, I rather think Pailor would move from 8 to accommodate him at the expense of Alex Woodburn. There is real strength at 6 and 7 and it looks like at least one and possibly two of Molitika, Oliver and Woodburn won’t feature in the match day squad on the 4th September, perhaps even three if La Roux is available and fit. Having such a wealth of options is great for the club, although keeping the players motivated might be difficult but it could allow Morgan the chance to take the Ranieri approach to management and tinker with the backrow using a squad system.
Poole and Roberts seem to be the chosen pairing for the time being at second row, but Wolfsenden is clearly someone in whom Morgan has great faith and I’m sure he will feature in the match day 20, if not the starting 15 when available for selection.
The front row is an interesting one with the three who started yesterday again looking to be pretty certain of a place in the squad against Wharfedale, with Sigley and Caulfield also featuring, with Foreman missing out. If Pricey is fit he’ll be the other hooker. Sigley will be used for the final 30 minutes or the first 45 to reap maximum havoc. Despite his age, the more I think about him, the more I think what a shrewd signing he is.
In the backs, the interesting position for me is at 13, with Tincknell and Macburnie fighting it out for a place alongside Rob Knox. Macburnie was impressive last season; he doesn’t score many tries but what he does, he does well. Tincknell comes with a reputation and seems to have settled well. Sam Smith also came on yesterday, but I really don’t know much about him and can’t comment on the likelihood that he will or will not feature later in the season
Fly half and scrum half are pretty much obvious choices and unless there are injuries, Jones and Evans will resume their partnership at half back, with Canning probably impressing more than Ryan in the first two games overall. I’m not sure about possible scrum halves other than Evans, Kareem Jamal looked very busy against Broadstreet and released the ball quick, but apparently the other scrum half yesterday looked ‘interesting’ (which is son-speak for very useful). Not sure if they are both still trialists at the moment.
The wings look like being Lespierre and Weightman at the moment, with the option of Hamilton moving from full-back to accommodate Hodgson, or Adam Canning.
There are one or two others who must be in with a shout. The likes of Liam Munroe, Ben Tomas, Joe Foreman, Rikki Stout, Thomas Preece, Caolan Ryan et al, but they are going to have to either impress in the remainder of the games if they are given the chance, work hard and hopefully get good reports from the local junior clubs they end up playing for over the first few weeks of the season, or benefit from any injuries sustained by those chosen in front of them.
I’ll be at Cardiff on Saturday so I should be able to update this a little…it is only speculation on my part and I’m sure there will be a few surprises between now and 4th September.