Bristol Sonics travel to face local rivals Swindon St George at Supermarine Sports Club this Saturday, with a place in the West of England Rugby League Grand Final at stake writes Matt Anniss.
The Sonics rounded off the league phase of the season with a dominant 26-58 away win at Somerset Vikings last Saturday, and go into this weekend’s play-off semi-final as the competition’s form team.
Free-scoring Bristol finished joint top of West of England League Pool A, level on points with United Services Portsmouth Navy Seahawks, having scored more tries and points than their South Coast rivals. However, as Portsmouth came out top in head-to-head results between the sides, they have been awarded with top position, and therefore home advantage in their game against Cheltenham Phoenix, who finished second in Pool B, behind Bristol’s opponents on Saturday, Swindon St George.
The Sonics have an excellent record against the team from Wiltshire, though Swindon have been in excellent form this season and will provide a stern test of Bristol’s title credentials.
Bristol player/coach Dom Swann, who missed the Somerset fixture due to family commitments, said: “Swindon have been much improved in recent years, and have been particularly good this season by all accounts. While we’ve not played them in 2016, we’ve been watching their progress in Pool B with interest. The fact that they topped Pool B, ahead of decent sides such as Southampton and Cheltenham, suggests that they’ll be a very tough side to beat on Saturday, especially on their own pitch. We’ve been building all season for the play-offs, so we’re confident, but we’ll have to play very well to get a win.”
Swann, who will return to the starting line-up on Saturday in his preferred stand-off role, is boosted by the return of a number of first-choice forwards. Skipper Alex Potts, prop forward Byron Edwards, second-row Matt Blacker, player-coach Lawrence Roycroft and utility back Josh Spuyman are all likely to return. Former Oxford, All Golds and South Wales Scorpions forward Nathan Rainer could also be back. Swann is likely to stick with the core of players who have brought success to the Sonics this season, including centre Alun Roberts-Jones, prop forward Kieran Harvey, free-scoring forward George Burnie, and young backs Jonny Mawer and Joe Uren.
He said: “The fact that so many people have played well this season makes my job difficult. We have a number of talented players competing for every position, which is a good problem to have. I’ll see how the guys train this week, and make a decision on selection after that.”
The game will take place at Supermarine Sports Club, Swindon, on Saturday 13 August, kick-off 2.30pm. The winners will compete in the West of England League Grand Final, which takes place at Chippenham RFC on Saturday 20 August (3.00pm).
FACTS & TRIVIA
- Bristol have previously played in one West of England League Grand Final, losing to Bath & Wiltshire Romans in 2016
- The Sonics won their first title in 2007, defeating Burntwood Barbarians in the Grand Final of the RLC West Midlands division. They won another West Midlands title the following year, reaching the national Grand Final, which they lost to Doncaster’s Thorne-Moor Moorends Marauders. Bristol also won the RLC Midlands Premier Grand Final in 2011, defeating Leicester Storm in the final
- The Sonics have scored 95 tries in 11 games this season, more than any other team in the West of England League.