BRIDGNORTH are expecting a record crowd at their Edgar Davies Ground for their RFU Intermediate Cup Midlands final against Northampton Old Scouts on Saturday March 14.
Bridgnorth had a crowd of around 500 for their regional semi-final win over Wellingborough but are expecting twice that number on Saturday as the Shropshire market town gears up for one of the biggest matches in the club’s history.
At stake is a place in the national semi-finals against either Blackburn or Scarborough, who will contest the North final, with a Twickenham final awaiting the winners of that tie.
“The town is just buzzing, it really is. I get stopped half a dozen times a day if I am walking through the High Street and they are not people that I normally bump into in my time involved in rugby. They are Bridgnorth people,” said Bridgnorth’s director of rugby Dale Smallman.
“I am Bridgnorth born and bred and my family have been in Bridgnorth for many years. It’s nice to promote and sell our town by using rugby as a medium to do that.
“We had about 500 for the semi-final against Wellingborough and I think they are expecting 1,000 for the final
“We have got hog roasts, beer caravans, bouncy castles and face-painting. It’s going to be a great afternoon.
“The players deserve this because of the amount of time and effort that they put into rugby. We have talked about having our day in the sun. This is our day in the sun.
“It’s for the playrs but it’s also for the families because they put up with our rugby. I have been there when I was playing at Stourbridge and Dudley Kingswinford.
“It’s challenging on a Saturday morning about 10 o’clock to give your two kids who are crying over to your wife and say: ‘I will see you at 10 o’clock tonight.’
“It’s not easy. But we had a team meeting on Tuesday and we spoke about it being our day in the sun and for everyone who has supported us.”
Smallman has previous experience of a Twickenham final having coached Dudley Kingswinford when they were beaten in the 1999 Intermediate Cup final.
He was also in charge of Bridgnorth 12 months ago when they were edged out at Leek in the Midlands final, a defeat that still smarts.
“What we have done is use last season as a positive experience. We have grown as a team from that very painful experience without doubt,” Smallman said.
“We have turned that round and used it as a positive. We are not reflecting negatively on it. The game was there to be won, but it just got away from us at the end. We can’t dwell on that
“Home advantage at this stage of the cup is important. I was fortunate in 1999 to be coach of DK when we got to Twickenham and again the quarter finals and semi-finals were both at home.
“It does make such a difference. These games are decided on very thin margins. You have got to be a good side to get to this stage of a national cup and it will be thin margins. It will be the one per centers and home advantage gives us a one per cent advantage so we have got to make sure that e utilise that.”
Bridgnorth go into the Midlands final on the back of 28 match unbeaten run this season which includes 18 straight wins in Midlands Two West (North).
Most of their players – 14 out of 18 in their last home league match – are products of the club’s mini and junior section. The remaining players either live or work in the town.
Smallman is proud of what Bridgnorth have achieved as was Mark Keyworth, the former England back row forward, who played for his home town club before he joined Swansea.
Keyworth gave Bridgnorth’s players a motivational speech before their North Midlands Shield final win over Stourbridge Lions last May but sadly passed away in November.
“This year is quite an emotional one for the club because we lost Mark Keyworth on November 23. The next Saturday we played Matlock away in the cup and we won it with the last play of the game so I do feel as though he is looking down on us a bit. If we could do it again on Saturday that would be great,” Smallman said.
“When we got to the North Midlands Shield final last year he came into the changing rooms and did a pre-match talk to us which was great.
“He outlined that he was a Bridgnorth lad and what it meant to play for the club. He loved the celebrations after that victory and he loved talking to the players. Obviously Mark played for England at Twickenham and we wanted to mark this season by doing the same. It gives it that little more added spice.”