Lancashire on the brink

Johnson - leads Lancashire
Johnson - leads Lancashire
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The Lancashire team made up primarily of Fylde RFC players are 80 minutes away from a 33rd appearance at Twickenham.

They can clinch their place in next weekend’s final of the County Championship if they avoid defeat against Cheshire at Sedgley Park on Saturday (3pm).

Should they do so, the defending champions would finish top of the northern group and contest the Bill Beaumont Cup final against the winners of the southern group at headquarters in London on Sunday week.

Lancashire have won the Championship a record 22 times, having beaten Cornwall in front of almost 30,000 spectators in last season’s showpiece.

Lancashire have a 100 per cent record in 2014, having beaten Northumberland at Fylde and edged out Yorkshire in a close encounter at Scarborough, where Fylde wing Warren Spragg scored the matchwinning try.

Mark Nelson, coach of Lancashire as well as Fylde, acknowledges his side is in a prime position to win the four-team group but he is refusing to take anything for granted.

He said: “The table tells us that we are in pole position but we can’t look at it in those terms. That would be a recipe for disaster.

“Three teams can still theoretically get to Twickenham from our group, so there is a lot still to play for. Equally, any one of three can be relegated as well.

“In effect, the match against Cheshire is a semi-final. And they will be out to spoil our party, that’s for sure.”

Despite the fact that Lancashire, skippered again tomorrow by Fylde’s Chris Johnson. have been to more finals than any other county in the land, Nelson says the motivation never wavers.

“Getting the chance to play at Twickenham is the spur that drives everyone on,” he said. “The players may have had a hard 30-match league season but they will all go the extra yard to get the chance to play at Twickenham. The good thing is that it is in our own hands.”

“We lost to Cheshire last year but still got through to the final by the skin of our teeth.

“It’s very important that we realise the seriousness of the game ahead and the challenge that it presents to us. But we have to be very positive and focus on what it is all about.

“We knew at the outset that there were going to be four very strong sides in the competition. There’s nothing that’s happened in the last couple of weeks that’s changed my opinion on that.

In the other group match, Northumberland take on Yorkshire at Tynedale.

The final at Twickenham will be a curtain-raiser to the big match between England and the Barbarians.

There’s no Oliver Brennand but Fylde still have nine players in the starting XV and four more on the bench.

Lancashire: Sean Taylor (Preston Grasshoppers), 14 Warren Spragg (Fylde), 13 Chris Briers (Fylde), 12 Matt Riley (Sedgley Park), 11 Phil Baines (Preston G), 10 Chris Johnson (Fylde, captain), 9 Ryan De La Harpe (Fylde); 1 Dan Birchall (Fylde), 2 Mark Rylance (Fylde), 3 Adam Lewis (Fylde), 4 Louis McGowan (Sedgley Park), 5 Gareth Gore (Fylde), 6 Gareth Rawlings (Longton), 7 Evan Stewart (Fylde), 8 Matt Lamprey (Sedgley Park); Replacements: 16 Simon Griffiths (Fylde), 17 Ben Black (Sedgley Park), 18 David Fairbrother (Fleetwood), 19 Paul Arnold (Fylde), 20 Tom Burtonwood (Fylde), 21 Steve Collins (Sedgley Park), 22 Jordan Dorrington (Fylde)