Twickenham beckons for two of the region’s community rugby clubs this weekend as Stourbridge Lions and Old Yardleians bid to negotiate the most important step of all.
Lions, who beat Old Leamingtonians to win the Midlands Senior Vase earlier this month, face North champions Selby at Stourton Park on Saturday with a trip to HQ on offer for the winners.
And OYs travel to Baildon in the semi-finals of the RFU Junior Vase for a match that will be another opportunity to show how far the club has progressed this season.
The Tilehouse Lane outfit were relegated to Midlands Four West (South) last term but have already secured an immediate promotion and having also added the Midlands Junior Vase, they now face the holders of the national competition.
Former strongman Mark Higgins is one of the key figures who have helped to transform their fortunes in less than a year.
All was doom and gloom when they were relegated but former international discus thrower and champion power-lifter Higgins is among the stalwarts who have helped to turn things around.
Higgins, who also won the World Strongman Challenge on two occasions, played rugby for Old Yardleians and his new role as nutrition and conditioning coach has been very significant in helping the Solihull-based club bounce back.
“We were at a very low ebb last season but Mark Higgins, our chairman Steve Sidwell and Tom Power, another club stalwart, have really helped to turn things around,” said Old Yardleians head coach Richard McCrainor.
“Tom does a lot of unsung voluntary work, things like putting out the players’ shirts and socks before a match to ensure that all they need to worry about is the rugby.
“Mark has brought a bit of direction to the club.
“He’s an ex-professional athlete and he knows how sport works from the bottom up.
“He’s done a lot of work in preparing the players but also does some mentoring work with some of the youngsters in the team.”
McCrainor, a former Bees lock who was Solihull’s player/coach when they were beaten by Sheffield Tigers in the 2005 final, accepts that his team face a tough task against a side unbeaten at home since October 2011.
“They are reigning champions, they know how to get to Twickenham and how to win at Twickenham,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge but they have got the pressure of defending their title and that long unbeaten home record.”
Lions, meanwhile, will be a little more optimistic, especially since they are sharing the occasion with senior side Stourbridge Saxons who are chasing promotion from National Two and are at home to Sheffield Tigers on the same day.
However, the kick-offs will be staggered so the whole club can get behind both sides and hopefully roar Lions to go one better after they fell at this stage last season.