Russell Earnshaw will be in a tiny minority when he takes to the field at Tynedale tomorrow as a player with relatively recent experience of breaching the redoubtable Northumbrians’ stronghold.
Three years ago the Birmingham & Solihull player-coach was a back-row forward with Doncaster when the Knights enjoyed a pre-season romp in the park and an 84-point haul. If there can be a drawback in such a victory it is that the try-fest did not include one for Earnshaw. “I gave one away a yard from the line,” he protests.
Things have changed since then. Earnshaw doesn’t need to give his rampant team-mates any gifts. Bees are top of National Two and – with three games left – homing in on promotion.
Only Cambridge remain standing in pursuit and even they are seven points behind. If Bees win in the North East and beat deflated Redruth at home next weekend they will be champions.
But ‘win in the North East’ is a lot easier to type that it is to expedite. Only one team have managed to do that in a league match at Tynedale Park since September 2006 and that’s Tynedale.
Tom Borthwick’s men have not lost to anyone else since Blaydon stormed the fortress in the second game of the 2006-07 campaign, 37 home matches ago. Victory over Bees would complete a second straight season without a reverse on their own paddock.
But Bees travel without trepidation whereever they go, indeed they have posted 30 points in five of their last six National Two away days. Westcombe Park held them to 29.
A week ago they went to Launceston and harvested five tries and five more crucial points meaning they have not dropped anything since January 24 in their relentless pursuit of promotion.
That process has been based as much on the blunderbuss as it has the rapier, however. While Simon Hunt stands within two of Nick Baxter’s level three record of 29 tries in a season, Earnshaw prefers to focus on some forwards.
“Hunty gets all the attention but down at Launceston Craig Voisey and Matt Long really stood out,” he said. “Once again they worked hard and played well. But what pleased me was the fact we did it without our first-choice centres and captain. Cameron Mitchell is out for the season and Scott Young had a tight hamstring. I am not sure we would have dealt with that so well earlier this season. The guys that came in really stepped up to the plate.”
Those guys, hooker Jack Preece, Rod Petty and Ryan Tomlinson, are set to retain their shirts and know a victory at Tynedale would be a rare thing indeed.
n?Worcester lock Graham Kitchener has signed a new two-year contract.