Scrum-halves Ben Walker and James Gough preview the big Kirkby Lonsdale v Kendal derby

The Westmorland Gazette: Kirkby scrum-half Ben Walker Kirkby scrum-half Ben Walker

IT is not quite irresistible force meets immovable object but this weekend sees the much-anticipated derby between Kirkby Lonsdale and Kendal, with two in-form sides going head to head at Underley Park.

With five home wins on the spin eighth-placed Kirkby are fighting fit in their own backyard while Kendal are one of the division’s form teams.

Having banished their away day blues, the Black and Ambers have won six of the last eight matches – a sequence of results which has seen them move fourth in League North One West.

Back in November, Kirkby secured bragging rights with victory at Mint Bridge after Kendal had led 15-5 at the break with tries from Reece Tomlinson and Oliver Field.

Sam Chesney-Benson reduced the arrears before half-time, laying the foundations for Stuart Storey and Dave Barton to instigate an impressive comeback in the second period.

With derby spoils, a league double and indeed revenge up for grabs, Ross McLean previews the fixture with two players who will be in the eye of the storm – Kirkby scrum-half Ben Walker and Kendal counterpart and skipper James Gough.

Q: What are your abiding memories from the first game between the two sides back in October and that 17-15 victory for Kirkby Lonsdale?
 

Ben Walker:  I remember Barty's try which I think gave us the lead and starting to think we might get a win here.

James Gough: The best side won – their desire at the breakdown and on the floor won them the game.

Q: Where do you believe that game was won and lost?

BW: I thought our second-half performance showed how much we'd come on as a team in respect of our composure and fitness.

JG: At the breakdown we couldn’t create any momentum and barely strung any phases together.

Q: Have Kirkby improved since the first meeting in October?

BW: Yeah there's a good feeling in camp and although we had a loss two weeks ago against Carlisle, team morale is still high.

Q: And Kendal?

JG: Yes we’ve improved gradually. We have managed to stay relatively injury free of late and are currently in a spell of really good form.

Q: What are the main strengths of your team at the moment?

BW: Our defence has been fierce over the last few weeks and we're putting teams on the back foot.

JG: I don’t want to give too many secrets away but the whole squad is buying into a system that will only see us improve.

Q: What do you consider the main strengths of the opposition and how will you go about mitigating those?

BW: Having played with a few of the lads last summer I know their tight five is one of the best in the league, and Goughy at nine is always one to watch.

Our pack has stepped up massively in the last few years and there's some real class now with the likes of Dan Armistead and Craig Galbraith so we should be fine.

JG: Taking nothing away from Kirkby but this week, as all weeks, we have focused on our own strengths and weaknesses as opposed to the opposition.

Q: Not just this game, but all games which are classed at derbies, is there extra anticipation and excitement heading into those matches?

BW: Of course derbies are exciting for everyone involved and it's going to be a great day down at Underley Park, win or lose.

JG: There is always anticipation for derby days. I expect a big crowd and I’m sure we well get a warm welcome at Underley Park.

Q: Were the Kirkby Lonsdale v Kendal fixtures ones you looked for specifically when the fixtures were released?

BW: To be honest we take it week by week and being in this league is number one for us.

JG: Not specifically, but when the game comes around it is talked about, but each game is as important as any other.

Q: How do you see the game panning out on Saturday and where do you believe the key battles lie?

BW: I don't think there's going to be a lot in it, the front row battle will be interesting, hopefully I'll come out on top at nine and there will be a few big clashes at 12.

JG: I can see a fierce contest at the breakdown but there will be battles all over the field. It will make for an intriguing afternoon.

Q: Kirkby are in excellent form at home. Not invincibility as such but is there a sense among the players that opponents are going to have to do something special to beat you at Underley Park?

BW: Like any team we've tried to make our home ground into a fortress but we've had so many unlucky moments away that it could easily be the other way around.

And Kendal are in excellent form as well. Is there a feeling opponents really have to perform to beat you?

JG: It will always be a hard game to win. One thing we have found in this league is no team can be taken for granted.

Q: How do Kirkby traditionally prepare for game?  Run me through the build-up and what happens on the day?

BW: We all do our own thing really until about half an hour before kick-off and then it's in with the coaches and we get fired up.

And Kendal?

JG: We run through a similar build-up and Saturday will be just like any other game day. We will continue to train hard this week and look at areas we need to build on as well as areas we have had success in.

Q: How is the dressing pre-match, who takes the lead?

BW: A few of the senior players normally do the talking but Matt Hughes is often the man with the last word. It gets pretty fiery in there when David Cooper-Dunne is about.

JG: We are very lucky at Kendal to have some real experience. We have leaders all over the park with no-one in particular taking the lead.

Q:  In a sense you’re in a unique position at scrum-half to see at close quarters the relative strengths of the pack and the back division. How do you feel Kirkby’s backs and forwards are performing this season?

BW: I think Barty and myself are linking the two well and defensively we are one team, so pretty well.

JG: As a team we have improved week, week out, gradually moving up the league after a rocky start. Ian Voortman has steadied the ship in the backline, leading the defensive sets, and big Reece Tomlinson has looked after the line-out and the breakdown.

Q: From your position, do you subscribe to the view that forwards determine who wins the game and the backs decide by how many points?

BW: Probably get a bit of stick for this but it's all about the half-backs!

JG: Definitely not. In the modern game everyone has to front up from 1-18 so it is definitely a squad that wins the game.

Q: How is the season panning out compared to your expectations at the start of the campaign?

BW: During pre-season I had a few chats with Matt Hughes and our chairman Brian Gregory and we all believed we should be finishing in the top five so hopefully we can do.

JG: I’m pleased from a captain’s point of view that we have found some consistency. The younger lads have bought into what is trying to be achieved which will ultimately lead to success.

Q: Are you pleased with your own form this season?

BW: I'd have liked to have crossed the line a bit more than I have but there's still time.

JG: There is always room for improvement.

Q: Which players from your own side are going into the clash in prime form?

BW: Stu Storey, Dave Barton and Jack Akrigg have been solid all year.

JG: What’s important is the squad as a whole is putting together some consistency and that’s been evident in recent games.

Q: Which opposing players do you look at as dangers to be nullified?

BW: I’d have to say Liam Hayton, Goughy and Mr Harryman.

JG: We’re not looking at individual players really. If we nullify 1-18 we will hopefully be on the right side of the result.

Q: What would it mean to win on Saturday?

BW: It's a big clash for the club and it would be great for our old boys but another four or five points is most important for me.

JG: Five points and a step closer to Widnes in third, that’s what we’re looking at.

 

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