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North-East derby day
IT'S derby day in North-East rugby with Blaydon playing host to Tynedale in National One, while one rung lower Darlington Mowden Park entertain Westoe.
Mowden's plan to move to the 25,000-seater Northern Echo Arena shocked the region's rugby community yesterday and it will be interesting to see what size of crowd they attract today.
They put together an exciting young team to earn promotion to National Two North, but as they found in last week's 34-0 defeat at Preston they will now come up against much bigger packs.
They expect Westoe to try to dominate up front but are keeping faith with last year's Barnard Castle School captain, Guy Van Den Dries, at No 8 in preference to Danny Dixon, who is in the second team.
Two other Barnard Castle products, Ross Burton and Jack Neville, are one the wings as Chris McTurk is a week away from being fit and Sean McCartney is switched to centre with Richie Young going to full back.
Zylon McGaffin returns at scrum half and Will McCauley comes into the back row in place of Tom Schofield, who is rested after playing for Northumbria University during the week.
Westoe lost 32-3 at Leicester Lions last week but director of rugby Andy Howells, who counts Mowden among his former clubs, welcomes back five senior players and has also added back row man Oliver Cracknell, from the Leeds Carnegie academy.
Richard Thirkell, Haydn Richards, Raymie Elliott, Chris Judson and John Younghusband return.
Westoe will hope to have the edge in the second row, where Paul Bird continues his comeback after a serious knee ligament injury.
In the National One derby Blaydon will hope to continue the form they showed in the 43-19 win at Macclesfield. They make one change, with Sean English coming into the second row for Keith Laughlin, who has a shoulder injury.
Former Alnwick flanker Jamie Hamilton, who played last week in the Newcastle Falcons Development XV, comes on to the bench.
Alongside him will be ex-Falcon Hall Charlton, who missed most of last season with a hamstring problem but is now fully fit.
Tynedale have added ex-Ealing back row man Sam Reynolds to their squad, boosting an area already strengthened by the arrival of Ollie Stedman and Ben Frankland from Westoe.
In National Three North, West Hartlepool visit Chester, who have have strengthened during the summer with the return of Ben Foden's brother, Tom, who has been playing championship rugby for Birmingham and Rotherham Titans.
West bring in Ross Wood for Anth Carr, who is working, while Andy Foreman will be at scrum half as Ryan Painter was injured last week.
Billingham are without experienced flanker Dave Robinson for the visit of Bradford and Bingley.
Middlesbrough have several key players missing for the trip to Northern in North One East. Scrum half Peter Wright is out for a month with a broken rib, while skipper Richie Barker, centre Paul Norris and full back Rhys Kilbride are unavailable.
Player-coaches Richard Horton and Martin Featherstone come in at hooker and fly half, and ex-colts Toby Tremlett (lock), Jack Pierce (flanker) and Joe Secret (centre) are also drafted in.
Peter Whitaker is at scrum half and Jack Bircham switches from fly half to full back. Prop Chris Horton is on the bench after being injured last season.
Darlington welcome back hooker Rob Goddard and lock Chris Oakley for the visit of Keighley and have Mark Baldwin at fly half. They have lost star centre Andy Pugh to Medicals as he is now a junior doctor at Newcastle RVI, while Connor O'Leary has gone to work in Poland.
Stockton have invited local MP Alex Cunningham to open their Sport England-funded changing rooms ahead of their match against promoted Consett, who lost 15-24 at home to Ponteland last week.
Teenager Marcus Sudron is unavailable so Paul Lee is expected to fill the fly half slot with Craig Slaughter coming in at centre and Owain Jenkins at full back. Simon Crozier and Dan Phinn switch to the wings.