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Boro hoping to be boosted by the presence of old boys
MIDDLESBROUGH are hoping the enthusiastic support of a bunch of ex-players will help them to an essential victory in their battle against relegation from North One East today.
Some of those attending a convivial reunion lunch prior to the match against Morpeth might wonder how a club which has always produced good players could be in this predicament.
Relegation would send Boro to the lowest level they have experienced in league rugby and they would go into Yorkshire One, which would be harder to escape than the Durham and Northumberland equivalent.
They are ahead of third-bottom Keighley only on points difference and the West Yorkshire club visit promotion-chasing Morley today. If Boro could gain a bonus point win and open a five-point gap it would give them the chance to put themselves beyond Keighley's reach by running up a big score at Durham City next week.
Skipper Richie Barker returns to Boro's back row, while Chris Horton is restored at loose head and Lee Theakston is in the second row.
Visitors Morpeth lost the Northumberland Senior Cup final 25-11 against Percy Park at Blyth in midweek. Five unconverted tries, including a hat-trick from Ali Blair, gave Percy Park the cup for the third successive year.
Blaydon, still keen to finish second in National One after slipping below Esher last week, field a strong pack for the trip to bottom club Cambridge.
Chris Wearmouth and Shaun English return to the second row and Keith Laughlin comes in at No 6 with Ben Morris at open side for Rob Bell, who has joined the RAF and will have restricted availability next season. Prop James Hallam, unavailable last week, returns to strengthen the bench.
Nathan Bailey returns at full back, Gavin Painter switches to centre and Jamie Sole is on the wing.
Tynedale need to win at home to Blackheath to keep themselves out of relegation trouble. They are ten points ahead of Wharfedale, but the Grassington club have two games in hand.
Darlington Mowden Park need to avenge the shock defeat at Hull which dented their promotion hopes in National Two North.
They could still secure the play-off spot if Hull Ionians lose their next three games, which looks possible, starting with today's visit of leaders Stourbridge.
Mowden are again without injured skipper Junior Fagalilo and lock Chris Campbell's season could be over after he suffered knee ligament damage at the North Under 20s squad weekend.
Guy Van Den Dries returns at lock and young prop Ben Simpson is handed a start with Dan Miller on the bench. Rory Duff returns to the back row in place of Charlie Maddison.
The seconds and thirds visit Billingham in Durham Cup semi-finals.
Billingham's senior team are also at home in National Three North, facing a Burnage side who have climbed above them after a good run.
Dan Finney is at scrum-half in the absence of Andrew Evans, while Joe Arrowsmith is back at open side in place of Phil Reay.
West Hartlepool visit Waterloo with Anth Carr at prop after being unavailable for most of the season through work.
Nathan Myers has broken a hand, so Andy Robson is at lock, with Neil Howe joining the Boatman brothers in the back row.
In North One East the two clubs who are well adrift of the rest meet at Durham City with Darlington looking to complete a double against their hosts.
Stockton visit Acklam keen to improve on the 17-17 draw when the sides met in November. With Martin Dixon and Mark Conway unavailable, Phil Douglas switches to No 8, Jonny Cheetham comes into the second row and Ben Cordiner starts at hooker. In the back row Todd Highfield edges out Tom Nelson.
Centre Craig Slaughter is available so Simon Crozier reverts to the wing, Anthony Healey making way.
n Durham will face Oxford University in the Under 20s Shield quarter-final at West Hartlepool TDSOB tomorrow (2.15).
After scoring 94 points in beating Cumbria and Leicestershire to reach the last eight, Durham have a few players either injured or unavailable.
They have often struggled to raise a side in recent years and team manager Tony Howe said: "Our objective this season was to get the show back on the road, which is why we opted to play in the Shield section.
"We've made headway and now we want to take that success a stage further. Winning games is the key to re-establishing our credibility in the competition and we want to show our clubs and our players that playing for Durham is something to aim for and be proud of."
Newcastle Falcons last night demolished Nottingham 71-17 in the quarter final of the British and Irish Cup at Kingston Park.