FOR the first time in four years Durham University will not be playing at Twickenham, the reigning BUCS Cup champions having been eliminated at the quarter-final stage.
Finishing third in the regular-season competition meant an away date in the knock-out rounds, and it was one-way traffic in Devon as Exeter University inflicted a 26-3 defeat on the Palatinates.
That brings to an end a remarkable run which has seen three successive Twickenham finals, Durham crowned national champions in both 2011 and 2013 as well as going three years unbeaten in the league.
A spare weekend in the club calendar sees only postponed matches being played tomorrow, Blaydon making the National One trip to Henley after the flooding in the Thames Valley washed out last month’s original date.
Micky Ward’s men will be aiming to bounce back from last weekend’s home defeat to Old Albanians, especially given the manner in which they allowed a 17-point lead to slip during the closing quarter.
Arguably the game with the biggest implications comes in Durham and Northumberland Two, where leaders Ryton travel to third-placed Redcar. The coastal outfit were 27-26 winners when the two met back in October, Ryton head coach Jon Benson insisting: “We are a different side now to what we were then, and we have improved the way we approach our games.
“Redcar will be tough down there and they have a good forward pack, plus the Young brothers (Neil and Richie) who used to play at Darlington Mowden Park. They will have a big influence for them, but for us we have five league games to go and we are focused on winning the division.” In the Under-20s County Championship Northumberland host Lancashire at Northern on Sunday, while in the Shield competition Durham meet Surrey in the final in Coventry.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a Durham side which almost disbanded three years ago, going unbeaten through their group and beating Warwickshire and Middlesex to reach the showpiece match.
Head coach Wayne Finney said: “We were having to ring round on a Sunday morning to try and get a team out because those who played county under-15s, 16s and 18s had dropped off the radar, but lads who have played at a good level are buying into the programme now.”