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Nottingham Castle

Left Lineout: October

1 October 13 words: Joe Sharratt
There's still plenty of rugby to be played, but with the nights drawing in and the days getting colder, Nottingham need a few wins to warm the hearts of their fans, and they need them soon.
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Martin Haag must rally his troops 

 

Oh to be in Nottingham at the end of summer... Kids back to school. Freshers off to Ocean. Goose Fair on the horizon. Yep, it’s a special time, not least for the rugger-minded merry men and women of the city, as Martin Haag’s Green and White army gear up for another attempt at getting out of the second-tier RFU Championship through the Mortimer’s Hole escape route of the playoffs.

Last season Nottingham were narrowly beaten in the playoff semi-finals by the Bedford Blues, who themselves went on to be steamrollered by the Newcastle Falcons in the final. The Falcons, who had come down from the AVIVA Premiership the season before, were the dominant side all year, and this year’s freshly demoted Premiership side – London Welsh – go into this season’s competition as heavy favourites for an instant return to the top flight.

For Haag the goal will once again be a playoff place, which means occupying a top four spot come the end of the regular season in April next year, and though he may have lost key some key individuals over the summer – including last season’s Championship Player of the Year Tim Streather, who has joined Saracens – he has added to his squad well over the summer months. Among the new arrivals are highly rated former Connacht back Matthew Jarvis, who has been capped at under-20 level for Wales, as well as Fijian international Campese Ma'afu and ex-Lazio forward Neilus Keogh, two players expected to add some depth to the Green and Whites’ pack over the coming months.

With pre-season beginning with the visit of Premiership side London Irish to Meadow Lane, Haag wasted little time in throwing in the new faces. Despite the top-flight outfit showing their quality with a relatively straightforward 44–10 victory, there were plenty of the proverbial positives for the home side, with the scrum looking strong throughout and some excellent performances from some of the squad’s younger members, including fly half Rory Lynn and winger Ryan Hough. 

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Joe Munro deals with Luffbra 

 

And Nottingham’s forwards continued to impress as Haag left behind the big names and took an experimental squad to play a Loughborough Students side for the Green and Whites’ final pre-season encounter. With club captain Brent Wilson, as well as fan favourites Tom Calladine and David Jackson all sitting the game out, it was left to the likes of Joe Burton – a former Loughborough student himself – to engineer a fairly comfortable 33–18 win.

Two weeks later and the season was underway for real, with Nottingham making the journey up to Doncaster’s Castle Park stadium to take on Leeds Carnegie in the search for opening day points. Following a bright start in which the visitors’ forwards repeatedly drove Leeds back, Dan Montagu forced his way between the posts to give Nottingham an early lead, one which was consolidated with Rory Lynn’s simple conversion. After Nottingham debutant Jon Vickers was sin-binned, Lynn stretched his side’s lead with two solid kicks, before Andy Savage sprinted clear and teed up Hough for a try that sent the Green and Whites in 18–9 up at half time.

And it was more of the same in the second half as some ferocious defensive work ground down the home side, who had no answer for the strength of their guests. With Lynn’s kicking finding the mark twice more, Nottingham were heading back down the M1 with a comfortable and deserved 24–16 win under their belts.

A week later and it was straight in at the deep end, as the first Meadow Lane encounter of the season saw title favourites London Welsh come to town, a fixture that went as badly as many had feared it would. Nottingham’s forwards, despite looking so strong in pre-season and dominating so completely against Leeds, were second best from the first whistle, conceding a host of penalties and struggling to deal with the quick combinations and organised play of London Welsh. Yet despite the gulf in class, it wasn’t until the start of the second half that London Welsh put the game to bed, when a brace of tries in less than two minutes finally extended their lead beyond a single score. From that point on Nottingham visibly tired, and were reduced to little more than chasing shadows for the final twenty minutes or so as London Welsh amassed point after point, with only the final whistle keeping the result as low as 46–19. 

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Nottingham versus Welsh

 

Still, such a result was only to be expected. The real task for Nottingham would be bouncing back against London Scottish. “This week has been about recovery”, said Haag in the build-up to the game. “We've got a few niggles and bruises following the big match at the weekend so there is going to be a couple of changes against Scottish. We know that there are no easy games at this level.” How true those words would turn out to be.

After a truly terrible first half in which very little of note took place, Nottingham held a slim 6–3 lead courtesy of two Matthew Jarvis penalties. An equally attritional beginning to the second half suggested that a single moment of magic would be enough to win the game for either side. In fact, three magic moments transpired, but none of them came courtesy of a Nottingham player. Rather, it was Miles Mantella’s devastating hat-trick of second-half tries that settled what was an otherwise entirely forgettable encounter. Moreover, it condemned Nottingham to a second Championship defeat in their opening three games, putting an early and sizeable dent into their playoff hopes.

There’s still plenty of rugby to be played, but with the nights drawing in and the days getting colder, Nottingham need a few wins to warm the hearts of their fans, and they need them soon.

Nottingham Rugby

 

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