HEAD coach Craig Burrows is excited to get this year’s county preparations under way as Oxfordshire eye a dream Twickenham final.
A squad of at least 30 players took part in last night’s first training session at Oxford RFC.
Oxon still have plenty of time to prepare for their Bill Beaumont Division 3 opener against Buckinghamshire at Aylesbury on May 6.
But they will be heading into a competition which has been revamped by the RFU this season.
One change has been to divide the second and third tiers – Oxon compete in the latter – into two pools of four counties.
It will see the top two teams from each division contest a final, cutting out the semis, and creating a shorter route to Twickenham.
“I think playing there is always the big carrot,” said Burrows.
“After a long, hard season, having the prospect of being three games away from the chance of playing at Twickenham, it’s quite a big draw for the players.”
Another change in RFU rules has allowed Oxon to select from level four, meaning Chinnor and Henley players are available for selection for the first time in three years.
But with both sides contesting a gruelling National League 2 South campaign, Burrows has looked to select from level six and below.
He said: “I don’t know how many of those (Chinnor and Henley) players will be available. It’s been a huge season for them.
“We’ve had a couple who have thrown their hats into the ring from both clubs, but not any solid first-team players, which you can understand.
“It will be interesting to see if any other counties have access to those level players.
“You don’t really know until the first game is played.”
Burrows has named Oxford Harlequins lock and skipper Allan Purchase as his captain, while Banbury scrum half Ed Phillips is his vice.
But with two centres already sidelined with Quins’ Jack Robinson undergoing surgery on a broken nose and Witney’s Matt Clarke carrying a knock, the head coach hopes his players come through this weekend’s league matches unscathed.
Burrows added: “There’s a big local derby between Banbury and Witney, so hopefully we don’t get any injuries.
“Unfortunately, it’s not possible to tell them to hold back.”
After the Pool 1 opener at Bucks, Oxon have two home ties.
They face Essex at Henley on May 13, before taking on Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire & Derbyshire at Chinnor seven days later.