When Bristol Sonics travel to Chippenham RFC tomorrow, to face Bath Rugby League for the very first time (kick-off 2.30 pm) a new Rugby League rivalry will begin (writes Matt Anniss).
The match marks not only the start of the 2017 West of England League season but also the competitive debut of Bath Rugby League, a club formed earlier in the year by former Bath champ and Wiltshire Romans Chairman, Chris Chatten.
Both Bristol and Bath have been placed in the West of England League’s `group of death’ alongside 2016 Champions Portsmouth Navy Seahawks, beaten Grand Finalists Swindon St George, Plate winners Oxford Cavaliers and beaten Plate finalists Southampton Spitfires. The high quality of the other teams in this pool makes Saturday’s derby a must-win game for both sides.
“The debut of any new club is a big occasion, particular a geographically close local rival,” said Bristol Sonics Head Coach Dom Swann, “but we don’t want Bath’s players and supporters to be celebrating at the end of the game.
“I’ve set the players the goal of making the top two at the end of the league campaign, which would put us in with a shout of reaching the Grand Final. If we’re going to do that, then we need to start by beating Bath Rugby League on Saturday.
“I’m expecting a very tough game,” he continued. “Bath’s side contains a number of players new to Rugby League, but others who have caused us problems when playing for other clubs in the region. If we go into the match with the wrong attitude and don’t follow the game plan then we could come unstuck. Nothing less than a strong performance and we could find ourselves in trouble.”
His line-up for tomorrow will be without inspirational skipper Alex Potts, injured backs Tom McIntosh and Jamie Swann, and coach Swann’s fellow player/coach, Lawrence Roycroft. A number of recent recruits, however, are in line for West of England League debuts, including prop Phil Dickinson, centre Aedan Coleman, former Swindon St George forward Ben Brinkworth and utility player Jamie Dinning.
Three of the Sonics’ West of England Lionhearts representatives – Byron Edwards, Matt Blacker and Jonny Mawer – are set to be named in Swann’s starting line-up.