Rugby union: Stoke going for a Burton victory
CHRIS Rowley says more is at stake than county bragging rights when Stoke travel to top-half rivals Burton.
The Barlaston boys have been closing in on Burton in the chase for fourth place in Midlands One West with a run of five wins in their last six games.
A 31-21 victory over Ludlow last weekend maintained their momentum, but Burton held on to their nine-point cushion over Stoke by hammering Camp Hill 85-7.
Now skipper Rowley is anticipating a feisty encounter as two sides, separated by just 27 miles, lock horns for the second time this season.
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And he is desperate to get revenge for a 22-19 defeat in the reverse fixture and lay down a marker for a shot at the top three spots next season.
"The top three are out of reach so the target is to finish as high as we can – in the position Burton are in now, fourth," he said.
"We want to get to the top of the chasing pack and we feel we can do it, but it means this weekend is really quite important.
"If they get five points and we get nothing they are look too far ahead, but if we get five points and stop them getting a bonus then it's very tight all of a sudden."
Stoke had only won four of their opening 11 matches at the start of the season as they battled with injuries and making the step up from Midlands Two.
But they have found their groove since the back end of November and proved they can be more than a match for any team at this level.
A 47-7 tanking of second-placed Lichfield in December made people sit up and take notice and they showed dominance in all areas in the five-try triumph at Ludlow last time out.
They now sit level on points with Stratford upon Avon in fifth ready to approach a tough couple of weekends.
"We lost against Burton and (third-placed) Worcester Wanderers earlier in the season but we've got a chance to test ourselves against them again this month," said Rowley.
"It will be a good measure of where we stand ready to take it on again next season. We've got to be fully focused.
"The potential is there, it's just a matter of bringing it out every week."
Burton are also facing a month which could dictate their fortunes this season.
In their loftier position than Stoke at present, the Brewers do not think the 10 points they find themselves adrift of Worcester are insurmountable.
But that situation could be strengthened or blown apart by the end of February, as they follow up this weekend's derby with a tough trip to Lichfield.
With two of their last three games are at home to Old Halesonians and Worcester, Burton will need wingers Lewis Brooks and Dave Archer to be at their try-hungry best to even hold onto their current status.
Rowley said: "Longton stand out in front as the top team in the county, then there's Lichfield who have been having a very good season.
"Next come Burton, but it would be nice to nudge them out of the way over the next few weeks."
FRANCIS Nock has been called up to the British Police squad for their tour to Hong Kong in May.
The Longton flanker is among four Midlands-based players to be selected for the trip, which will feature an international against the Australian Police on May 31.