Player/coach Dom Swann has told his Bristol Sonics side to “make their own history” when they face Bath & Wiltshire Romans in the West of England League Grand Final at AFC Corsham’s Leafy Lane ground on Sunday (23rd August, K.O 14.30).
Swann, the club’s record points scorer and the only man to have played in every season since the Sonics’ first took to the field in 2003, wants his young side to “finish the season in style” by recording a second win in three weeks against League Leaders, and 2015’s form team, Bath & Wiltshire Romans.
The Sonics came into 2015 in disarray, with on and off-field issues forcing the club to withdraw from the elite Conference League South competition and drop down into the West of England League. Given this upheaval, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Sonics struggled to find form in the early part of the year, with the thrill of heavy victories tainted by the pain of tight losses to Somerset Vikings and Cheltenham Phoenix.
As the season has progressed, Bristol has finally clicked into gear. An impressive midweek performance against the Royal Marines, where the Sonics provided the military men with a scare in a pulsating performance, was followed by a dramatic 30-all draw at Dings with this season’s surprise package, Bath & Wiltshire Romans. It was the first time the new club, who rely heavily on Armed Forces players recruited from barracks in Wiltshire, had dropped points. That game, a fiery encounter that included a sin-binning and two sendings off, saw the Sonics roar back from a 14-point deficit to lead, only for the visitors to level the scores in the dying minutes.
Since then, the Sonics have been in prime form. Two weeks ago, an understrength Sonics side traveled to Bath’s Leafy Lane ground in Corsham and emerged victorious, inflicting a first defeat of the season on the confident Romans. Youngster Jack Uren, filling in for injured captain Alex Potts at hooker, grabbed four tries as the Sonics won 28-32.
Last week, Uren repeated the trick, crossing the whitewash four times as the Sonics overcame Somerset Vikings 48-22 at Dings to book a tantalising Grand Final re-match with Bath & Wiltshire Romans this Sunday.
Now player/coach Swann, who missed last week’s encounter due to the wedding of fellow Sonics coach Wes Rodgers, wants his side to finish the job. He said: “I’ve given the players a simple message: finish the job and make your own history. This is what we’ve worked all year for. It’s not been a great season off the field, and at times we’ve struggled on it, but all along we were focused on making the Grand Final to put ourselves in with a chance of winning some silverware. Now we’ve done that, we can focus on our next goal: beating Bath & Wiltshire Romans and winning the West of England League. We know what we have to do to beat them, and psychologically we’re in a good place as the only side in the region not to have lost to them this year. I’m in no doubt that it will be a very difficult game for us, though. I expect them to have all their experienced Forces players available for selection, and we know from little things we’ve picked up on that they’re really desperate to win that trophy, just as we are.”
The Sonics have appeared in a number of Grand Finals over the years in different competitions, and Swann is hoping that might make a difference on Sunday – despite the lack of big-game experience from some in his young, energetic side. He said: “Our last Grand Final was in 2011, where we beat Leicester Storm 28-20 at Aretians to become Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier Champions. There are very few of our squad who experienced that day, but one or two are still in the ranks, or will be there cheering us on from the sidelines. I’ve asked them to have a few words with the youngsters, and tell them about their experiences. This is a new experience for Bath, and we don’t yet know how they’ll respond, but a number of their players have international honours with Great Britain Combined Services so you’d expect them at least to take it in their stride. There’s a certain pressure to being favourites, and they’re definitely favourites.”
One player with experience who will controversially take to the field for Bath on Sunday is prop forward and captain Tom Howley. Alongside Sonics’ Dan Stuart-Cummins, Howley was sent off for his part in a brawl in a previous encounter between the sides, and was due to serve a one-match ban on Sunday. While Stuart-Cummins has accepted his punishment, Bath have written to the Rugby Football League to appeal the decision, allowing Howley to take his place in the side.
Howley is likely to be joined in the Romans’ starting line-up by Mike Harrison, a recent Great Britain Combined Services representative who played for the Sonics in Conference League South last season. These two players, along with the Romans’ strong-running pack, will arguably pose the greatest threat to the Sonics’ title ambitions on Sunday.
Dom Swann said: “Mike and Tom are terrific players and will be at the forefront of everything they do on Sunday. Nobody wants to miss out, which is why I’ll have a few selection headaches this week. Whoever takes to the field for us, I’m convinced they can do a job and help us win that trophy in their back yard.”
Swann is likely to return to the starting line-up, and can also call on experienced centre Mike Gaston for Sunday’s showdown in Corsham. Young stars Jack Farler and Jack Uren, who between them scored 28 of the Sonics’ 48 points last Saturday, will also make the starting line-up. Elsewhere, Swann is remaining tight-lipped and as yet, not even the players know who will be on the team sheet come 2.30 on Sunday afternoon.
Swann said: “I want to keep faith as much as I can with the young players and academy graduates who got us in this position, but we definitely need some extra experience in there, particularly in the pack. The game will be won and lost in the forwards, and we have to compete from the word go. That’s causing me a few headaches, but thankfully a few of the lesser-experienced lads have played brilliantly in the last couple of weeks, so I might just put my faith in them. I’ve still got a fair amount of thinking to do, though.”
Bristol Sonics face Bath & Wiltshire Romans in the West of England League Grand Final at AFC Corsham’s Leafy Lane ground on Sunday 23rd August, kick-off 2.30pm. Entrance is free.
BRISTOL SONICS RECORD IN GRAND FINALS
2007: RLC West Midlands Division – WON (40-30 v Burntwood Barbarians at Chase High School, Burntwood)
2008: RLC National Grand Final – LOST (38-20 v Moorends Thorn Moor Mauraders at Derby RFC)
2010: RLC West Midlands Premier Division – LOST (24-20 v Coventry Bears in Golden Point extra time at Old Coventrians RFC)
2011: RLC West Midlands Premier Division – WON (28-20 v Leicester Storm at Aretians RFC, Patchway)
Dom Swann is the only player to have appeared – and scored – in each one of Bristol’s Grand Final matches.