Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Students in Continuing Search for Best Balance; 44 THE JOURNAL TUESDAY, JANUARY RUGBY SCRUM DOWN with MARK SMITH Tel: (0191) 201 6432; Email: Mark.Smith@ncjmedia.Co.UK

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Students in Continuing Search for Best Balance; 44 THE JOURNAL TUESDAY, JANUARY RUGBY SCRUM DOWN with MARK SMITH Tel: (0191) 201 6432; Email: Mark.Smith@ncjmedia.Co.UK

Article excerpt

Byline: MARK SMITH

NEWCASTLE University are sowing the seeds for future success, but director of rugby Tom Wilkinson admits this season is all about maintaining Premier North status.

Tomorrow afternoon they travel to a Durham University side who have won the league title for the past three seasons, as well as being the reigning national BUCS Cup champions following a third successive Twickenham final.

The inherently cyclical nature of student rugby and predatory leanings from local clubs has made Newcastle's hill steeper, Wilkinson saying: "We have had a really good fresher intake this year and, of the 44 players who featured in our last round of first and secondteam matches, 20 of them were first-years.

"We are in a good position going forward, and in two or three years' time we should be pretty strong, providing we keep hold of them all and don't get pillaged again by the local clubs."

Currently fifth in the seven-team league, he added: "At the moment we are trying to consolidate, making sure we stay in the Premier Division.

"We started well, beating Loughborough away and winning against our traditional rivals, Northumbria. Since then we have struggled through injuries and lost our last four games before we broke up for Christmas."

Putting his side's positive start down to a short but intense pre-season which included three training sessions per day, recruitment remains a major challenge.

"We targeted six players, and we were fortunate in that five of them got the grades they needed to be accepted on to their courses," said the director of rugby. "Outside of that we got lucky to some extent with the quality of freshers who came to us, but we are also three years into my tenure as director of rugby and we have built up some good relationships with a number of schools around the country.

"People like Brighton College and Sedbergh are in active contact about sending some of their better players here, but the lads have still got to get their grades and it is not like American college sport.

"We are always going to be at a disadvantage to some extent against some of the old polytechnics, in that we cannot give a reduced grade offer. So if our course entry requirement is two As and a B, the student has to hit that target.

"There is no leeway from the university on that, and a lot of the medical and law courses we run mean you have to be a real high-achiever academically to be taken on."

Putting plans in place to strengthen in the long run, Wilkinson added: "If we have our best 15-18 available we can be a match for anybody. Durham, the national champions, only beat us in the last minute when we played them, and we had two players in the sin-bin. We just don't have the depth when we get a spate of injuries, but hopefully in the next two academic years we will be starting a sports course at the university. …

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