The last time Maidstone were at the Paddock, it was in a London 2 South clash when Maidstone stormed their way to the title. In fact it will be the second time in two weeks that the Mighty Oaks have faced Intermediate Cup and London 2 South double winners, with Maidstone predecessors to Tunbridge Wells as League and Cup champions in the 2014/15 season.
Both teams have changed considerably since then, in terms of playing personnel and management, but whilst the faces of the opposition might not be as familiar to Oaks players, management and supporters as they were last week against Tunbridge Wells, the sight of the red, white and black of the men from the Mote brings equal excitement ahead of the match. ‘We are raring to go’ comments Adam Bowman. ‘Up until last Saturday at 4.45pm, we were fully focused on Tunbridge Wells, but immediately after that game we turned our attention to Maidstone. They did really well last year, consolidating high up the table and no doubt they will want to improve on that this term – they will be another year older and wiser in this league so we are expecting the toughest of challenges’.
Reflecting on last weekend, whilst disappointed to lose to local rivals Tunbridge Wells in the 1st XV match, Bowman is pleased with the direction the squad are taking, saying ‘Saturday was nip and tuck and credit to Tunbridge Wells, they showed why they were top dogs last season and what a good side they are by inching us out. It was a big physical battle and I think it’s fair to say that both teams didn’t really hit their straps – then again that’s because the opposition didn’t really allow them to. Of course you want to win each game, but I thought the heart and desire the boys showed was excellent and the experience will stand us in good stead for this season.’
Bowman continued ‘The great thing was as soon as we got back into the changing room, the 1s were all asking how the 2s got on and it perked everyone up that they had gone to Campion and got a result. I’d like to thank Campion for stepping in and taking the fixture last minute as well. To put thirty points passed a side like that shows the strength in depth we are building. We now have two very hard fixtures again this week – the 2s against Sidcup will be a real test and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they go.’
Those that saw Oaks in the opening match of the League at the Paddock will no doubt clock that there were some different names on the team sheet last week and Bowman is keen to stress the key in building a squad with strength-in-depth across the board. ‘The game last week showed what strength- in-depth you require in this league. We will have changes again this weekend, but it just re-iterates to us as a coaching group and playing squad how everyone will play their part across this season.’
Bowman believes that crucial to that strength in depth is the aforementioned 2nd XV squad, which has arguably fielded two of its strongest sides in recent memory ‘We can only take eighteen each week with the 1st XV and so there is some real quality that have just been squeezed out – in most cases, down to the finest of margins. It does mean that we have had really good competition for places and the one reason we have a bigger coaching staff is so that we can give more time to players – guys now know that at least one Senior Coach will be with them each week, so if they perform, they will get noticed and put themselves into the shop window for the 1st XV – and that has already happened and will no doubt continue to happen throughout the season. I think for the first time also we have been able to provide Phil (Woolacott) and his team with some additional players - in the past it has been the other way around so I hope that it can continue. With all three teams playing at the Club this weekend, it will be a really good opportunity for Oaks supporters to see the talent we have within the Senior section.’
The Senior Squad continue their respective campaigns this weekend, with the 1st XV taking on Maidstone at the Paddock, with a 3pm Kick Off and the 2ndXV taking on Sidcup also at the Paddock at 2pm. The 3's are kicking off at 3pm against Cranbrook, also on home soil.