Torfaen Tigers face a tough trip to defending champions, Nottingham Outlaws as the 2016 Conference League South season launches this Saturday writes Ian Golden.
Their match at Highfields, which kicks off at 2.30pm, is the only one of the weekend in what is now a seven-team competition containing three Welsh and four English clubs.
All the other sides in the competition kick their season off after Easter on 2 April. Valley Cougars, last season’s league leaders and Grand Final runners up, and West Wales Raiders, are the other two Welsh clubs, whilst the south of England are also represented by London Chargers and reserve sides from Coventry Bears and Gloucestershire All Golds.
Torfaen’s early season away form ultimately cost them a place in the top four last year but they will be keen to make amends for that this week and coach Kyle Scrivens is cautiously optimistic.
“We managed to get a run out last week and blow off a few cobwebs against Swansea University,” he said. “We showed in places what we are capable of and have worked hard in training this week to improve where we felt we were poor last week.
“We’ve named a strong squad, there were some tough calls and a few lads disappointed to miss out.”
Both sides had good warm-up victories last week, with Torfaen running in 11 tries against Swansea University for a 52-24 win, while Nottingham beat the Royal Artillery 44-12 in their annual Heroes Trophy game.
Nottingham Outlaws’ player-coach George Strachan has mulled over his squad selection before making a few changes to the team that did so well in regaining the Heroes Trophy last weekend.
Whilst the starting pack remains similar there is one key change in that Army international Tom Howley pulls on an Outlaws shirt again after a gap of six seasons. Indeed the big number eight is expected to add significant go-forward to a pack that was already shaping up well after a good hit-out against the Artillery last weekend.
The only other change to the starting 13 sees Adam Simm return to the centres after passing a precautionary fitness test on an injury picked up during Wednesdays cup final triumph by Nottingham University. His switch back into the centres means that Sam Campbell drops back to his regular wing spot whilst John Christie is on the bench.
Nottingham Outlaws: 1. Adam Cunliffe 2. Sam Campbell, 3. Reece Needham, 4. Adam Simm, 5. Adrian Chaima, 6. Will Martin, 7. Alex Whittle, 8. Thomas Howley, 9. Chris Prime, 10. George Strachan, 11. Coryn Ward, 12. Patrick Crummay, 13. Oliver Dale, 14. Ben Scott-Nelson, 15. William Ephraim, 16. Joe Barton, 17. Jon Christie, 18. Daniel Crabtree
Torfaen Tigers (from): Matt Cummins, Corey Clarke, Liam Silver, Sam Hancox, Nathan Byrne, Jordan Hillier, Dai Thomas, Connor Goode, Ben Williams, Grant Harrington, Louie Pengelly, Scott Atkins, Jake Thomas, Josh Symonds, Tom Matthews, Dai Powell, Josh Bardon, Gavin Phillips, Jack Watkins.
Conference League South season – opening matches
19 March – Nottingham Outlaws v Torfaen Tigers
2 April – Coventry Bears Reserves v All Golds CLS
2 April – Valley Cougars v London Chargers
2 April – Torfaen Tigers v West Wales Raiders