Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Saturday's Coming - Oxford

Oxford RL are bit like the Yeti, or Sasquatch, or the Loch Ness Monster. They kind of show-up fleetingly in your peripheral vision and you’re never entirtely convinced that they actually exist until you see them for yourself.

This Saturday, Oxford come to Spotland sitting 9th in League one with 2 wins from 5 games.
Having run Newcastle close a couple of weeks ago, the second of those wins came last week, as Oxford survived a second half fightback to beat London Skolars 38-24 at Iffley Road.

Having led 28-nil at one point, the score was a sphincter-squeaking 32-24 with 15 minutes to go as the home side shipped three tries in ten minutes.

Fast forward to this week, and we see that Oxford’s Dual Registered Matty Blythe (Bradford)  has copped a one match ban after submitting an Early Guilty Plea for striking in the Newcastle game. Nice work.

But where Blythe will spend this weekend contemplating his actions, fellow Bulls DRs Nathan Conroy, Adam Brook and Dave Petersen are likely to feature.

This team could be systematic... Tim Rumford's side
are like greased lightning.
A glance down Oxford’s squad reveals a real sense of development and opportunity - a selection of
regional conference talent, former armed forces players, *nion players and NCL players from the ‘heartlands plus  Graham O’Keefe and John James Bird - who’re Irish.

It’s a cosmopolitan mix - and a big step forward from Tony Benson’s ’Biffs on a bus’ approach. The man responsible for assembling this pool of emerging League talent is former Castleford Academy coach, Heworth head coach and Gateshead number two Tim Rumford. And it seems he’s a bloke who believes in the power of Rugby League to change people’s lives.

On his Linked-In profile he says: “I am passionate about all aspects of Rugby League… I am proud to have guided talented young players to the highest level of elite Rugby League. During this process I have learned that dedicated & committed young people can realise their dreams with the help and guidance of coaches who are equally dedicated and committed to them.” We’ll go with that, Tim.

In the official RFL match preview this week, Rumford says “I was happy with the win at the weekend, it was good to get the two points. These couple of wins early in the season are really important to us. The performance, particularly in the first half, was really good first half and I thought we should have been further in front at half-time. In the second half we were probably guilty of over-playing. Being 28-0 up at half-time, at times it was difficult to stay motivated – which we’ll address this week.”

“We face a very good team this weekend. Rochdale have obviously got a good link up with St Helens so they could put out a few very experienced players. Our lesser experienced boys need to match them. It’s great for their development but we need to make sure we’re competitive with the likes to Rochdale to see how far we’ve come – that’s the challenge for us this week.”

But Ian Talbot has spotted the flaw in Rumford’s supposition that these “… few very experienced players…”  give us some sort of spurious advantage. He says: “Oxford are another unknown quantity. They’re getting quite a few players from Bradford at the minute to complement what they’ve already got.”

Indeed, everyone leaps for the Saints link when we start winning. Last week we had Ant Walker who’s played with us last season and this;  Jack Ashworth, who’s a Rochdale lad anyway and Lewis  Charnock who’s played all our games bar one this season. No different to having our own squad players or lads on a season-long loan.

Indeed, Ian Talbot is  concentrating on building on Hornets’ stunning victory over Swinton last weekend: “I thought defensively we were very good,” he said. “They had a lot of ball on our line and we held them out, it was fantastic defence from us. (This week) We’ll just prepare ourselves in the right frame of mind. The Swinton win means nothing if we don’t back it up this week.”