Experienced Alex Crockett hoping for change of fortunes at Hull Ionians

Sam Wilson of  Hull Ionians.
Sam Wilson of Hull Ionians.
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AS a former Bath captain who featured in a Heineken Cup semi-final, made almost 100 Premiership appearances and also represented England’s second string, Hull Ionians coach Alex Crockett has seen plenty elite rugby union.

Yet during all his time in the sport, the 34-year-old says he has never witnessed the sort of barren misfortune his National One club are currently enduring.

They head to Plymouth Albion today desperate to end a five-game losing run that is threatening to erode their campaign.

Ordinarily, a coach would be at his wit’s end in such circumstances – 11th-placed Ionians have not won since defeating Henley Hawks on November 14 – especially considering their next opponents, conversely, are on a five-match winning sequence.

However, Crockett, who guided Ionians back into the third tier as National League Two North champions last term, remains fully confident his side will emerge from their recent mire.

“We had four games on the bounce which we either lost in injury-time or by one point,” he explained.

“In 16 years of rugby I’ve never been on a run like it where we’ve been so unlucky to lose in every single game.

“You can accept it, though, as these things do go in roundabouts and if a couple of those results had gone our way we’d be about where we thought we’d be in the table.

“But we’ve been unlucky in a few games and there was some big fixtures in others against sides that, in all honesty, we weren’t expected to win anyway.

“We know we’re not a million miles away.”

Although they were vanquished 37-13 at home to Richmond a week ago, they lost just 28-24 at Loughborough Students, fell 16-15 against visiting Wharfedale, 22-21 at Ampthill & District and 26-20 when Blackheath arrived in East Yorkshire.

Crockett, 34, says he has reminded his squad of these facts as they look to resurrect their campaign and avoid being dragged into the relegation zone which lies just nine points below.

“That’s the big factor at the moment – keeping their belief going as some of those wins were there to win,” added the former Bristol centre, who won the European Challenge Cup with Bath in 2008.

“We’ve put in some huge efforts and we are competing most of the time so it is about keeping their heads up and keeping going.

“Things will turn around. I am confident of that.”

Asked if he was feeling the pressure, the former Newcastle Falcon insisted: “It’s not pressure, as such. I just feel for the boys given they are putting in these huge efforts and putting their bodies on the line continuously. I really, really feel for them.

“I know how hard they are training and the team spirit and morale is fine so there’s no worries there.”

Ionians defeated Plymouth 
25-21 in only the third game of their campaign back in September which will encourage them.

Crockett, though, admitted: “They’ve picked up a lot of points since then and there’s a lot of different personnel in their team.

“They seem to have settled into life in this division now after being relegated last season. Their form has been very good and there’s been some big scalps in their latest run; they’ve not been easy games.

“Plymouth will be a different proposition to the side we faced last time.”

Crockett is unlikely to make too many personnel changes this afternoon and added: “I’ll probably keep with the tried and trusted.

“At times like this there can be a temptation to go out and get loan signings but I’m keeping it safe with the people who have been doing their job and who have shown loyalty to us.”

Wharfedale, meanwhile, face a huge game themselves this afternoon when they know a rare victory will drag them out of the bottom three and send visitors Blaydon there instead.

Tommy McGee’s side are currently 15th, two points behind their opponents at The Avenue, and in critical need of a win.

The Dalesmen did enjoy their best victory of a difficult campaign when they won 43-13 at Blaydon in September, scoring seven tries in an emphatic performance, and their visitors today are still searching a maiden away triumph of the season.

For Wharfedale, experienced prop Chris Steel is fit again and starts, joined by Riccardo Cano who performed admirably in last week’s 25-10 loss at Esher.

Dan Stockdale’s injured ribs look like sidelining him for a few weeks so Jordon Poole takes his place on the bench, Simon Willet returns at lock and Chris Howick is named on the bench.

Injured full-back Oliver Fewtrell is replaced by Maxime Labasse, available once more having spent the Christmas break with his family in France.