Ilkley keen to ensure big day out ends with Cup glory

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Four days to go until the biggest day in their history and Ilkley’s Stacks Field clubhouse is a hive of activity.

Not only is the town’s rugby team conducting a penultimate training session ahead of their big day out at Twickenham today, but the local athletics club is also congregating for an early summer’s run.

Even a meeting of the spa town’s ‘Slimming World’ is underway in one of the rooms of the club’s recently-opened £1.7m clubhouse.

It all makes for a busy evening for the volunteer parking attendant who probably did not sign up to fitting square pegs into round holes at 15mph.

The scene is, no doubt, reminiscent of those at clubhouses up and down the county and across England, but at Ilkley on Tuesday night, there was an extra spring in everyone’s step.

For the town’s rugby club is heading for Twickenham, the home of rugby union, where the giants of the game have lifted silverware and spilt blood.

The chatter in the clubhouse before training starts, before the run begins and before decreasing pounds are registered on the scales is all about today’s Intermediate Cup final.

For Ilkley RUFC have never before scaled such heights.

An upwardly-mobile amateur club they might be, but even in a season when Martin Johnson opened their new clubhouse, a trip to the famous old cabbage patch will take some beating.

It only takes an evening stroll around the place to realise how much it means to everyone.

“You get guys who are professionals who never get the chance to play at Twickenham,” says club captain Stuart Vincent with measured enthusiasm. “And we’ve got a chance to bring a trophy back to this club, this town.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime.”

In professional sport, a cup final can act as a springboard for a climb up respective leagues in future years, but at amateur level it carries even greater significance.

Ilkley have been destined for a mid-table finish in Yorkshire One for some time, meaning the focus of the season shifted early on to their national cup campaign.

Yorkshire Shield winners last year, clubs like Ilkley, who have no desire or means to start remunerating their players – they are supported by a charity charter barring payments – live for days like today.

Hence the reason they have pulled out all the stops.

The team bus pulled out of Stacks Field yesterday morning and arrived in south west London in the early afternoon.

A tour of Twickenham to help with those frayed nerve ends was conducted in the afternoon before a team meal last night.

“I’d have been happy rocking up just before kick-off and heading out onto the field,” says head coach Rhys Morgan, with a wry smile creeping onto his face.

“But the lads told me to stop being greedy. I’ve been down before while a lot of the players haven’t. I’ve listened to the boys and what they want to do, because it’s not about me, it’s about them feeling comfortable.

“If there are any nerves, any guys struggling, we’ll pull each other through,” added Vincent. “We’ve a good mix of experience and youth. We don’t want to leave anything on the field.”

On preparing mentally for the biggest day in the club’s history, captain and coach are in harmony. If there is a difference it is in the approach to their opponents.

East Grinstead of the London South East Two division are not familiar foes, but have a formidable record behind them. They lost only one game en route to the title and carry the nickname of ‘G-Force’.

“Yes, but Stoke had a good record in the semi-finals,” counters Vincent, defiantly. “They hadn’t been beaten for 18 months and were reigning cup holders, but they came to Ilkley and we did a job on them.

“Our approach will be the same. They’re a big side, but we’re not worrying too much about them, we’ll concentrate on ourselves.”

Morgan was more diplomatic, having witnessed first-hand the tour de ‘G-Force’ on a spying mission to East Grinstead last week.

“It was well worth the visit,” he says. “They didn’t want to produce a team sheet becase they sensed why we were there but we got a pretty good look at what we’ll be up against.

“I’m fairly confident the game plan we have will suit what we need to do against them, but there’s one or two things they do that we need to consider.

“Vinny will say it’s not about them, it’s about us, but my take on it is if you don’t judge your enemy and take into account their strengths and weaknesses then you can be slightly misguided.

“If you’ve got an idea then it will help you and we’re going to work them hard.”

The general concensus is if Ilkley are to win, their front row will have to be dominant.Whatever happens, it promises to be quite an occasion for the club.