Blues prepare for title-chasers' challenge
Newton Abbot at Monks Lane in quest to return to the top
NEWBURY BLUES sign off at home for 2017 on Saturday facing the second in their one-two challenge when they face newly deposed leaders Newton Abbot for the first time at Monks Lane.
Blues’ 42-10 defeat at Dings Crusaders was a blow, but Newton Abbot crashed to a surprise 33-20 defeat at Brixham to lose their top spot, albeit with a reshuffled side that could be shuffled back this week with the return of full back JJ Taulagi.
Taulagi is at Newton Abbots in a bid to earn a contract with Exeter Chiefs, and the New Zealand-born 24 year old was on duty for Samoa in last week’s Autumn international defeat at Twickenham.
He is in an experienced Abbot side that also has former Exeter back Matt Jess leading the line that led them to the top until last week, and which is now charged with the task of chasing down Dings.
“We have to be on and at our best,” said Blues head coach Lee Goodall. “They obviously score a lot of points and we are going to have put in one hell of a performance to beat them.
“But we can do that” he added. “On paper we will be underdogs but if we can put in a performance, then a shock could be on the cards.”
The Brixham reverse was only their second of the season following a 43-22 defeat at Dings. They have had close calls at Camborne and Lydney before scraping home, but have comfortable wins at Bracknell and Hornets to their credit.
“They have a long journey to get here with the M4 closed and the racing as well,” said Goodall. “They have a big pack and while their backs may relish the space at Monks Lane, their big forwards may not.
“If we can get parity or better up front, then we can apply pressure in the back line to try and stem the threat there.
“And we have home advantage for the last time in 2017 and we need to think back and reflect on a year where we’ve made massive strides.
“It’s going to be interesting.”
It was certainly that at Dings where Blues started well before the home hit back, although two late tries gave the scoreline a lop-sided look. “We could have been 20-0 up,” said Goodall, “they changed tactics, but 14-10 at half-time was OK.
“It was Ryan Trevaskis’ missed a penalty in front of the posts that seemed to deflate us, and in the end they played the better rugby and justified their place.
“It was hard day, not a tough day.”
It came at cost with lock Adam Neal sustaining and injured shoulder and flanker Dylan Stewart breaking his nose. That should be re-set on Friday but he remains a major doubt, while full back Trevaskis misses out.
Josh Bartlett suffered a ’dead’ leg but trained this week and hopes to be fit, while Kyle Doel returns, and with the Stags sidelined, Blues have the depth of their squad available.