Young stars to play for club and county

WHILE it's a blank weekend for clubs below National Two several of the North-East's most promising players face two games in two days.

That's because the County Under 20 Championship kicks off tomorrow and Blaydon and Darlington Mowden Park have players doubling up as both clubs face top-of-the-table battles today.

Blaydon, third in National One, entertain second-placed Ealing Trailfinders and include winger Frazer Wilson, who will also play for Durham Under 20s against Cumbria at Kirby Stephen tomorrow.

Mowden, third in National Two North, visit leaders Stourbridge with Guy Van Den Dries at No 8 and Chris Campbell in the second row. They will be on opposing sides in the Yorkshire v Northumberland match at Middlesbrough tomorrow.

Van Den Dries will be joined in the Yorkshire team by clubmates Danny Potts and Henry Forbes, plus Guisborough product Pierce Phillips, who played for Mowden last year and is now with Leeds Carnegie.

Mowden also have three in the Durham squad in prop Ben Simpson, hooker Tom Larder and centre Josh Hall, although the biggest contingent is from Billingham, who have six.

Blaydon's player-coach Micky Ward knows his team have the chance today to prove they can compete at the top of their division, saying: "We have got a great opportunity and we are upbeat about it.

"We are facing a step up in quality over the next few weeks, but we aren't going into it with any fear. We are up there and it's not a fluke."

Newcastle Falcons' teenager Jonny Burn continues at scrum-half, with Hall Charlton on the bench after returning from New York.

Gavin Jones comes into the back row for Ben Morris, who has a rib injury, and Simon Barber makes his first appearance of the season on the wing in place of hamstring victim Zach Kibirige.

Charles Incledon returns at centre as Tommy Banks has a neck injury and flanker Tom Nutley is again on the bench after making a big impact last week.

Tynedale's run of five defeats at Richmond is unlikely to be halted at Richmond, although they welcome back full-back Chris Harris after two months out through injury.

Mowden travelled last night ahead of their big game at Stourbridge, who have taken maximum points from all ten games after being relegated from National One last season.

But Mowden have won their last nine and chairman of rugby Mike Keeligan said: "It's a chance to see how good we are.

"We have played against bigger packs and stopped them on the gain line - in fact, our defence has won us those games.

"Stourbridge have some ex-Premiership players and have taken five points from every game so we are under no illusions."

Andy Wilson returns to partner Campbell in the second row with Van Den Dries switching to No 8 for Danny Dixon, who is on the bench. Otherwise the team is unchanged.

Westoe will travel this morning in search of a fourth successive victory at Bromsgrove. Half backs Chris Judson and David Haswell are back but centre Jamie Clark is out with a hamstring problem.

Director of Rugby Andy Howells said: "We have had a huge improvement defensively in recent weeks, but we know we aren't the finished article yet.

"Bromsgrove have struggled at the start of the campaign like we have but it is always tough for us when we go down there. It is important when we have to set off so early that we get the stops on the way down bang on."

With no league fixtures at the lower levels, Redcar and Acklam face tough games in the first round of the Yorkshire Shield.

Redcar, top of Durham and Northumberland Two, visit York and Acklam go to Dinnington.

n The Durham Under 20 team to play Cumbria at Kirby Stephen tomorrow is:

L Hagan (Teesside University), F Wilson (Blaydon), J Hall (Mowden Park), E Myers, E Husband (Billingham), M Brewis (Liverpool University), D Finney, J Angus (Billingham), T Larder (Mowden Park), D Connelly (Westoe), A Brown (Billingham), K Wilson (Durham City), N Myers (West Hartlepool), J McKenzie (Northumbria Univ), J Chapman (Billingham).

n Darlington Mowden Sharks fly half Katy McLean will captain the England Women's team against world champions New Zealand in this month's three-Test series. Lichfield's Sarah Hunter, who hails from Newcastle, is named as vice-captain and ex-Mowden lock Tamara Taylor, now with Worcester, is in the squad.

The matches are at Esher on November 23, Aldershot Army Rugby Stadium on the 27th and at Twickenham on December 1.

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