West face East in must-win Harry Jepson Trophy match

A place in the 2017 Harry Jepson Trophy decider could be up for grabs when the West of England travel to face the East of England at Pennine Way, Hemel Hempstead on Saturday (kick-off 2.00pm) writes Matt Anniss.

Having lost to a strong London & The South East side in Oxford last Saturday, West must win to be in with a chance of making it to the final of the historic amateur Rugby League competition, which this year features regional sides for the very first time.

The West of England team performed admirably in their first Harry Jepson Trophy outing of the season last weekend, but were ultimately outgunned 30-8 by a London & South East side packed with experienced Rugby League players.

Head Coach Ben Whincup, who steered Swindon St George to their first West of England League title this summer, said: “We did a lot of things right last weekend and for most of the game defended really strongly. We tired towards the end as our completion rate in attack was poor and we gave them too much of the ball. If we look after the ball well and sharpen up in attack, I’ve every confidence that we can get a win against the East on Saturday.”

The teams have met once before in a friendly encounter in the autumn of 2016. On that day the West of England coaching team, led by Director of Rugby Glenn Tyreman, used the opportunity to try out a number of new combinations and fringe players. The East ended up running out comfortable winners, but Tyreman thinks it will be a closer game this time round.

He said: “The squad we have put together for Saturday’s game is very strong – much stronger than the team that played the East last year. I don’t think that result has much bearing on what may happen this weekend. We’ll be stronger for last week’s hit out and because this is their first game of the competition, they may be a bit rusty. We’ll have to play well to win but I believe that we have the personnel to do that.”

Tyreman, Whincup and assistant coach Will Brewer have shuffled the starting line-up and interchange bench for Saturday’s must-win encounter. Gloucestershire Warriors’ Ashley Lewis and Oxford Cavaliers’ Dan Spencer form a new partnership in the halves, with the Warriors’ Sean Roberts replacing Bath’s Tom Plance at hooker. Elsewhere there are first appearances of the competition for Portsmouth Navy Seahawks’ Aaron Beesley and Bristol Sonics pair Matt Blacker and Jonny Mawer.

If the West of England pull off a win they will have to wait to hear the result of the London & South East v East of England clash on September 16 to see whether they’ve qualified for the Harry Jepson Trophy Final on September 24. A victory for the East will see them take on London & South East in the final, regardless of the following week’s result.

The West of England squad to face the East of England: Josh Verity (Swindon St George), Ross Lewis (Oxford Cavaliers), Ryan Tanner (Gloucestershire Warriors), Paddy Commerford (Southampton Spitfires), Ciaran Chester (Bath Rugby League), Ashley Lewis (Gloucestershire Warriors), Dan Spencer (Oxford Cavaliers), Joel Thomas (Oxford Cavaliers), Sean Roberts (Gloucestershire Warriors), Paul Bolger (Swindon St George), Andy Hoggins (Oxford Cavaliers), Lloyd Allen (Swindon St George), Chris Kent (Swindon St George), Henry Beer (Bath Rugby League), Matt Blacker (Bristol Sonics), Richard White (Swindon St George), Dan Brooker (Bristol Sonics), Adam Dommett (Cheltenham Phoenix), Jonny Mawer (Bristol Sonics), Aaron Beesley (Portsmouth Navy Seahawks).

The Harry Jepson Trophy is the longest-running amateur Rugby League competition for players based in development areas – parts of England and Wales that do not fall within the sport’s traditional powerbase in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. Between 1997 and 2016 community clubs contested the competition, with previous winners including North London Skolars and Coventry Bears (both now Championship 1 clubs within Rugby League’s professional structure), Bridgend Blue Bulls, Nottingham Outlaws, South West London Chargers and St Albans Centurions. In 2017, the competition was re-launched as a regional championship featuring squads representing the West of England, the East of England and London & The South East. The competition also doubles as an extended trial for players looking to represent the England Lionhearts.

The trophy is named in honour of legendary Rugby League administrator Harry Jepson, who was instrumental in the launch of the Southern Conference (later to become the Rugby League Conference) in the late 1990s. Jepson continued to attend finals and present the trophy to the winning team until his death in 2016.

The West of England Lionhearts is the representative side of the West of England Men’s League, a summer competition featuring community clubs from Bath, Bristol, Cheltenham, Forest of Dean, Gloucester, Oxford, Portsmouth, Southampton, Somerset and Swindon.

Players are selected based on performances for their clubs over the course of the season. The representative side was established in 2016 and in early 2017 toured Ireland, beating that country’s Under-21s side in an entertaining encounter. The West of England Lionhearts are managed and coached by volunteers from a number of community clubs in the region and are able to compete thanks to sponsorship and donations from companies and individuals.