Briggenshaw loss is blow for Ipswich

RUGBY UNION Top-of-the-table Hertford come to Ipswich tomorrow for what is sure to be the sternest test of the season for the Suffolk club in their battle to avoid relegation.

TOP-of-the-table Hertford come to Ipswich tomorrow for what is sure to be the sternest test of the season for the Suffolk club in their battle to avoid relegation.

Hertford have lost only one game this season in the London League Division Two North, to second-in-the-table Bishops Stortford a fortnight ago.

"If we can play the way we did in the victory over Twickenham last Saturday, then we could well surprise Hertford," commented Mike Hancock, Ipswich's director of rugby.

But unfortunately Ipswich have again been hit by injuries and unavailability. The biggest loss will be second row Alex Brigginshaw, the Suffolk captain this season.

He was given a late slot entry to the London Marathon, which takes place in the middle of April, and feels he ought not to risk injury in the remaining four games of the season.

"It is a huge blow and one which we hadn't anticipated" commented Guy Atherton, the Ipswich coach. "Alex has been playing well for the club and leading Suffolk and now we face arguably our most difficult games of the season and we are battling to stay in the Division without him."

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Jamie Griffiths is recalled to replace Brigginshaw and will partner Adrian Price who had one of his best games of the season in the victory over Twickenham. Ironically, after the Hertford game, Price will be missing, as well as Brigginshaw for the next two weeks because of a wedding and a birthday celebration he will be attending.

Also this week prop Rob Thomas, who injured a knee in the defeat at Diss a fortnight ago and was expected to return tomorrow, broke down in training in mid-week.

With Dean Garrard suffering from a shoulder infection, John Clarke is called up to make his first team debut in the front row. He was previously in the Ipswich Colts side but has returned home for Easter from studies at University and slots straight into the team.

Two other players suffered injuries against Twickenham and have been ruled out tomorrow. Winger Ally Kerr (damaged ribs) and back row James Blythe (tore ankle ligaments). He will be out for the rest of the season, although Kerr is hopeful of resuming in a week's time.

Hooker Danny Reeve has to work tomorrow so he will be missing and his place is taken by Sam Fairclough.

On the plus side Ipswich welcome back former captain and highly experienced centre Mike Fielden who will be available for the rest of the season. The former Northampton centre will add considerable strength to the three-quarters in the vital final games of the season.

"We have potentially the best back division we could possibly field" said Atherton.

The performances of Ipswich captain Jeff Searle were this week rewarded by his call-up for the Eastern Counties representative side in the back row.

Ipswich Magpies are taking on Hertford seconds at Humber Doucy Lane tomorrow.

Ipswich: Williams, Fairclough, Clarke, Griffiths, Price, Murphy, Searle (Jeff), Primmer, Goodall, Van-Heerden, Searle (Jon), Fielden, Johnson, Brotherton, Harding. Replacements: Townes, Whythe, Novosad or Hughes.

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