Crunch time for Rushden & Higham in promotion campaign

Rushden & Higham have big games coming up against their promotion rivals
Rushden & Higham have big games coming up against their promotion rivals

Rushden & Higham face crucial back-to-back matches against their promotion rivals as the battle to escape the Midlands Three East (South) reaches crunch point.

Five straight wins have put Rushden eight points clear at the top of the table and player-coach Stuart Riding accepts the next two matches are essential to his side’s chances of clinching a top-two finish this season.

They head to third-placed Rugby St Andrews tomorrow and seven days later are on their travels to Vipers lie second.

Riding said: “They are two big, big games.

“I don’t think they are the be-all-and-end-all, but they will have a big factor on where everyone finishes.

“I still think it’s going to be tight this season and will probably go down to the last couple of games.

“We have a tough finish to the season.

“The next two games are big, big games and we also have to go to Stockwood Park, who are fifth at the moment.

“It’s nice to have this eight-point lead, but we’re not taking anything for granted.

“I don’t have to motivate the players for the next two games.

“They will turn up focused and knowing what they have to do.”

Rushden did wallop St Andrews 41-8 last October, but they look to be a different side now.

They are unbeaten at home in the league this season and were 16-15 winners at Vipers two weeks ago.

Riding accepts the match at Hilmorton Grounds will be one of the toughest of the season – especially as he is forced to make changes to his side.

He added: “We know Rugby St Andrews are a physical side and a good side.

“We’ve got a couple of players unavailable and will have to shuffle the back line, but you never have a full squad available anyway and we are bringing in first-team squad players.

“We’ve just got to try to do what we’ve been doing all season.

“The boys have been really good.

“They’ve fronted up physically in the pack and the lads out wide have been doing their job as well.”

In the same section Oundle entertain Stockwood Park looking to break a run of four games without a win.

But, a 32-15 loss to Rushden aside, those games have one draw and two games lost by margins of one and three points.

Despite their form, head coach Peter Croot insists ‘promotion must still be a target’.