London Scottish return to action after a Christmas break unexpectedly extended to four weeks due to fixture clashes and poor weather when they take on National League 1 opponents Manchester at Grove Park in Cheadle Hulme on Saturday, with a place in the last 16 at stake
The two sides have experienced vastly contrasting fortunes in the season so far, with London Scottish undefeated and riding high in National League 3 South as they push for promotion, while Manchester have endured a wretched run of form that has left them with a solitary victory in 19 matches.
However, London Scottish head coach Brett Taylor believes that it is wrong to read too much into league form.
“I think league position means nothing and we have to respect that Manchester are a National 1 side and they got into that league for a very, very good reason – they got promoted last year and should be respected as such, regardless of what their results are. But it’s a great opportunity for London Scottish to pit their wits as players and coaches against a side that’s been playing National 1 standard week in, week out, irrespective of the score”.
Indeed, Taylor believes that the very fact this is a cup tie rather than a league match may take some pressure off the hosts, providing “an opportunity for the Manchester side to gain some confidence, to go into the next round of the cup, which would add some momentum to their season as well”.
Similarly, the match offers a chance for Taylor’s own players, dominant in the league this season, to shine against a side that plays its league rugby just one tier below the Guinness Premiership.
“This is a chance for them to gain some confidence and show how good they really are. That’s the opportunity that we’re looking for, to see as a club and a group of players how we can perform against a National 1 side in terms of their physicality and their game understanding.”
While the club has taken the opportunity of previous cup games this season to rest first-choice players and give an opportunity to some of the more junior members of the squad – indeed, victory in the previous round against Basingstoke was achieved while the first-team regulars were in league action at Henley – Saturday will see London Scottish field a full-strength side.
As Taylor explains, “we have to, for the simple reason that we haven’t been able to play a game yet, we have no momentum in terms of our playing, to get the season going, we haven’t been able to shake the holiday cobwebs off. We have to get all the players out there again, we’ve got to treat this as a league fixture, and get our league programme back on the road again.”
Postponed league matches against Bridgewater & Albion and Worthing are yet to be rescheduled, but Taylor is philosophical about the potential fixture congestion that may arise.
“You can’t do anything about it, can you? We can’t bemoan our luck, of course you want to keep on playing and getting better, but we’ve just got to win every game that’s put in front of us, whether it’s midweek, whether it’s on a Sunday or on a Saturday. If you start bemoaning your luck and looking for those excuses then you’re going to come undone. We’ve got a good enough squad, whether we play three games a week or two games a week, to put ourselves in a good position to perform. And the positive side of it is that we’ve had four weeks off”.
Taylor also believes that the squad’s strength in depth will play a crucial role in the months ahead.
“We’ve used over 50 players already in first-team rugby this year, and that experience gained by 50 players is going to be absolutely vital when we come into congested league periods, because not every player is going to be able to play every single game, it’s just the nature of the game. In order to fulfil our goal, all those 50 players have got to be ready to be called upon”.
While progressing to the last 16 and possibly beyond would be a tremendous achievement for the club, Taylor is clear where his priorities lie for the season.
“I love the cup, in terms of one-off games, it’s like the FA Cup, it’s a great opportunity for the coach and players to play against other sides that you normally wouldn’t and to improve your game understanding and how you work different sides out. But the goal is the league, it always has been. Our aim is to achieve promotion if we can and put ourselves in a position to do that”.