NEWBURY BLUES are 80 or so minutes away from making a return to National League rugby as they prepare to take on Clevedon in the South West Division promotion-play-off at Monks Lane on Saturday.
Blues are expecting their biggest league crowd since the 2300 who saw them lose 40-22 to Northampton in April 2008, and for what is sure to be a charged atmosphere as the two teams go head-to-head in a winner-takes-all clash that will secure a place in National Three South West next season.
The home side has undergone thorough preparation for the game, and a final Thursday night training decision will complete the fine tuning.
“We have been preparing in depth,” said head head coach Lee Goodall. “We’ve got enough on them to know roughly what they are going to do, but now it’s all about us.
“Let’s think about what we are going to do, and we are not going to make any big changes but will aim to play the way we have been playing all season and it’s just about fine tuning, player and mind management for Saturday.
“We don’t have to worry about bonus points or scoring four tries, just going out there and winning a match.”
Clevedon finished second to Weston-Super-Mare in the Tribute South West One East and cokme to Monks Lane due to Blues’ slightly superior league record.
But their style is similar to Blues and while Goodall says: “like any west country pack that can stick the ball up the jumper, they like to play an expansive game as well.”
Blues warmed up with last week’s 60-19 win over Reading Abbey to close out their regulation season, while Clevedon beat Okehampton 55-34 with prolific kicker Kieran Hill among the points. “Anything from 50 metres up, he can kick,” said Goodall, while skipper and number eight Harvey Russell is another player to watch out for.
Blues will reveal their match-day squad- with four replacement - to players at training, but will keep it under wraps until Saturday. But they have Kyle Doel, Toby Pearce and Robbie Drysdale all back in the reckoning, although Josh Bartlett remains a doubt after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring problem only a minute after coming on as a replacement.
“It’s going to be a huge match,” said Goodall, “in front of what could be a huge crowd which could be our 20th man and give us that boost to see us through.”
Pictured, scenes from last week's play-off clinching win over Reading Abbey