Head coach Mark Nelson has revealed the secret of Lancashire rugby union’s success as his team prepares for what has become an annual exodus to Twickenham for the Bill Beaumont County Championship final.
Lancashire will contest the end-of-season showpiece for the ninth time in 10 years on Sunday, when they face Hertfordshire in a noon curtain-raiser to the England v Barbarians clash at the national stadium.
Former Fylde coach Nelson’s side won their three group games, averaging 60 points in each, despite selection restrictions resulting from the club commitments of Sale FC and Sedgley Park players.
Indeed, in a competition featuring an ever-increasing number of National One players, the only ones at Lancashire’s disposal were those from relegated bottom club Fylde, yet this proved no barrier to the ongoing success of the county side.
Nelson, who coaches Rossendale at club level, explained: “It’s a long season for some of them but the ethos is that you leave your club kitbag at the door and pick up your Lancashire kitbag.
“The players buy into that culture and understand what it takes to get to the final.
“The competition has been stronger than ever this season but the players know what the reward is. We have structure to deliver the goods, and when we ask the players to challenge themselves they come through.”
The ongoing enthusiasm of Nelson and his management team clearly rubs off on his players.
He added: “There are no motivation problems because to me each championship is unique and has its own story. After each one you close a chapter and move on to the next.
“The Lancashire ethos isn’t only building at senior level. The Under-20s built up under Howard Hughes have won their County Championship, and the ladies and the juniors are doing really well.
“Adam Lewis of Fylde has done a fantastic job captaining the side, but what renews my enthusiasm is the response of the whole team around us, including the manager Steve Rigby, John Greenwood, my coaches Martin Scott and Warren Spragg and our physio Megan Stewart, whose husband Evan (Vale of Lune’s former Fylde flanker) will play his final game tomorrow.”
Nelson’s former club Fylde has traditionally provided a large proportion of Lancashire’s players, though this year only three are in the squad. There are, however, 14 former Woodlands players set to take the field this weekend.
While Nelson is saddened to see his former club’s seven-year tenure in National One end, he is positive about Fylde’s prospects.
He added: “My take is that Fylde have a quality coach in Warren Spragg and a good group of younger players , so that bodes well for the future.
“But the club needs to re-evaluate where it sees itself and react accordingly. They must look very hard at how they run the club, and ask themselves what they want to achieve and how.
“We were fortunate when I was there to bring together some quality players in their mid to late 20s and we got a magical mix, which Warren was part of. But I think Fylde will be fine. They have the resilience of youth, so it isn’t all doom and gloom.”
They will renew their rivalry with Preston in National Two North and Nelson warned: “It will be tough for Hoppers. They have realised they need to recruit because this is a brutal league with no respite.
“Overall Lancashire rugby is in good shape. We had a good season at Rossendale, Vale of Lune have been promoted to our league and Sedgley Park got to the play-offs in National Two North.
Now Nelson aims to crown that successful season by retaining the trophy which bears the name of Lancashire rugby’s most famous son, World Rugby chairman Beaumont.