STEVE Smith says Burton RFC’s promotion challenge is still in their own hands as they look to bounce back from defeat to champions-elect Lichfield last time out, writes DAVID BROOME.
The Crofters host struggling Malvern tomorrow, kick-off 3pm, having slipped to third in Midlands One West.
They have a game in hand, and still have to play Hereford, who have leapfrogged them into the promotion play-off position.
While Smith accepts the title is probably out of reach – barring an almighty collapse from Lichfield – he has second spot firmly in his sights.
“Lichfield are a very good squad and I can’t see many – if any – teams taking points off them,” said the director of rugby.
“The sensible money is on them winning the title, so we’re looking at second.
“If we win our game in hand, and beat Hereford, then second place is in our own hands.”
Smith admits Burton’s dossier on Malvern is not as thick as it might be, but is confident his side have what it takes.
“From the bit of research we’ve done, they’ve got a very good back line, so they’ll probably try to throw the ball around now the pitches are drying up,” he said.
“We’ll try and take them on up front, and then use the backs going through the middle.
“We don’t know as much about them as earlier because they’ve got two or three new players in there.
“Where they sit in the league is a bit unfair because they’re not a bad side.”
Smith also believes that the 15-10 defeat to Lichfield last time out could have gone either way.
“We dominated Lichfield up front for 50 to 60 minutes and they only came into it when we had injuries,” he said.
“If I’m honest, we maybe didn’t control the game well enough when we had the wind in our favour.
“But both sides played some good rugby – it could have gone either way – and we’re probably one of only two teams to test Lichfield this season.”
With no first team game last weekend, some of the squad played in the A team’s cup clash – ironically also against Lichfield.
“A few of the bench guys and lads coming back from injury like Kelvin Browne – who is probably one of the best wingers in the league – played for the second team at Lichfield,” said Smith.
“It was a good run out and more about getting players pitch time for us, which could be invaluable for the final few games.”
Skipper Josh Cartwright is hoping to return before the end of the season after revealing that his ankle ligament damage is not as bad as was feared.
He will be missing tomorrow, along with Will Brooks, so Joe Gazzard will come into the second row alongside Tom Harris.
The back row will comprise Ben Cook, Ed Henry and Liam Hucknall, with Craig Dutton dropping to the bench alongside Harry Titley, with Dave Archer at full-back and Jack Brookes in the centre.
Smith is also hoping the fifth annual beer and cider festival at Peel Croft this weekend can draw in the punters to cheer his side on.
“The beer festival is always well supported and the extra people it brings in can make a difference,” he said.
“We’re also hoping for a lot of the minor and junior sections to be down.
“If we can get five points from the match as well, it’ll have been a good weekend.”