Road to Twickenham: East Grinstead v North Bristol preview
WAYNE THOMPSON is hoping his big-game experience can inspire North Bristol to reach Twickenham.
The Almondsbury-based side travel to East Grinstead on Saturday for an RFU Intermediate Cup semi-final with a place at English rugby headquarters at stake.
Head coach Thompson, 28, has played at Twickenham for Oxford University in a varsity match against Cambridge and for Bristol in their Powergen Shield triumph over Waterloo in 2004, and has also represented England Students, England Universities and the under-21s, but if he can lead North Bristol to the final it will rank as the greatest achievement of his coaching career.
Several of the current squad played when North Bristol lost to 18-13 to Solihull in the National Junior Vase semi-final seven years ago, and Thompson believes that will drive them on to go one further this time.
The Bristol prop said: “I’ve played in the pressure games before and there are a few remaining from the semi-final (defeat against Solihull) so the rest of the boys know what it means.
“We have done pretty well this year in the cup. When we won the first couple we realised it was getting more serious and suddenly there was a realisation as we got closer that there was a chance (of reaching Twickenham).
“We are not looking that far at the moment, we are just looking to get that game out of the way first.
“There’s been a big effort in the last few weeks and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready for the game.”
North Bristol beat Western Counties North rivals Barton Hill and Old Centralians last November to become Gloucestershire Intermediate Cup winners and progress into the last 16 of the national competition for teams at level seven.
They won 26-22 at Bude before triumphing 24-15 away to Southern Counties North league high-flyers Windsor in the quarter-finals, but the trip to East Grinstead looks to be their hardest assignment yet.
The London Two South East side have already clinched the league title with three games left, winning 18 out of 19 games, and thrashed Enfield Ignatians 42-0 in their quarter-final.
However, Thompson insists North Bristol have nothing to fear.
“It is difficult and a bit of an unknown,” he said.
“The South West is seen as the stronger league but teams like Windsor and East Grinstead are used to winning so it will be really tough going down there.
“Our confidence is high and the boys will give it their best shot.”