Yorkshire face Kent on Saturday aiming for their first County Championship title for 16 years – and a cluster of the county’s clubs and players who produced encouraging campaigns in National Two North have had an impact on the white rose’s return to Twickenham. (Photo Credit: John Ashton)

“That is one of the things we’ve looked at. If there are teams flying high, players flying high, you want players coming in with confidence,” says Yorkshire head coach Dan Scarbrough.

One glance at the squad put together for their current Bill Beaumont County Championship campaign, and the quality which was on display in National Two North this season features prominently in Yorkshire’s ranks.

Scarbrough admits there is still work to be done if club rugby across the county is to increase its sustainability and realise its full potential but right now, there are reasons to be positive.

Yes, nine of the 14 National Two North clubs for this season were from the region but when Rotherham Titans and Leeds Tykes produce a compelling title race, Sheffield and Wharfedale finish third and fourth, the top try-scorer in the league comes from Otley and both Hull clubs conclude 2023/24 on positive notes, that has to be a source of encouragement.

And any potential feel-good factor has been amplified since the end of the domestic season because after going toe-to-toe with Somerset and powering past Lancashire, Yorkshire are revelling in their first County Championship Division 1 final for 16 years.

“National Two has been a good spectacle this year and it has been about us finding those diamonds in those squads,” Scarbrough adds.

“I think we have done that well and for this group now, it [the final] is something new, something a little bit undiscovered and for many of them, it will be the first time – and potentially the only time – they will get a chance to play down at Twickenham.

“I think our job as coaches is to try and get the right balance between them enjoying the day and taking in all the atmosphere but actually, we are also there to do a job. We are in it to win it now.”

Not since 2008 when the Otley duo of Steve Parsons and Robin Kitching helped to see off Devon 33-13 have Yorkshire been the cream of the county crop, but they have the chance to put that right against Kent on Saturday afternoon.

And with Yorkshire’s Women’s team also playing at England HQ against Surrey in the Gill Burns Division 1 final – their first since 2019 – it could be an extra special weekend.

“We play at 3pm and they play at 5pm so it would be really nice and huge for the county if both teams can come away with a victory,” men’s captain Joe Makin tells National League Rugby.

“There are a number of supporters coaches heading down and naturally, friends and family will be heading down so we are hoping for a good Yorkshire following and two victories.”

For skipper Makin, walking out at Twickenham – something he did with Yorkshire at Under-20 level back in 2011 – ‘will be a great honour’ considering his rugby journey has been influenced by his association with the county.

In terms of the senior set-up, Makin has been involved for 12 years and whilst touring with England Counties and winning league titles with current club Hull Ionians might be achievements which define his career, a County Championship final feels like the missing piece of the jigsaw.

“I suppose you could say Saturday is the jewel which is missing out of the crown in terms of winning the County Championship,” Makin says. “I have obviously played a lot of games for Ionians and represented England Counties but never managed to get to the final at Twickenham and win it. We are one step there in terms of getting to the final. The next step is to go ahead and win it on Saturday.”

Two weeks ago, a full-blooded and relentless Pool 1 clash against Lancashire was exactly what those in attendance at Makin’s home ground, Brantingham Park, expected as Yorkshire sealed a 26-13 victory to book their place in the final.

Having lost by a single point to their ‘Roses Rivals’ last season, that – intertwined with the raw sense of occasion – spurred on Scarbrough’s side.

“It is always a rivalry the Roses match,” Makin continues. “We had in our minds last year that we had won the previous two Roses games and not really got anywhere. In 2022, we won but we were pipped by Cheshire and in 2019, we ended in third place.

“It is always a big match. I don’t think you need much more encouragement than that but when you do lose so narrowly the year before, it does add to it.”

Against Lancashire, Yorkshire had a trio of try-scorers from three different clubs with Peter Hudson-Kowalewicz (Hull), Sam Taylor (Otley) and Lewis Minikin (Hull Ionians) all going over.

In their overall matchday 23, 10 clubs were represented compared to Lancashire’s five. Eight of the nine National Two North teams from 2023/24 featured while Ben Mills from York [Level 5] and Sam Brady from Harrogate [Level 5] were also involved.

Makin feels the spread of clubs within the Yorkshire set-up highlights the ‘breadth of talent’ available to the coaches, but it also simultaneously shows how much of a challenge it is to pull together a squad of players and turn them into a cohesive unit.

“I do think we have actually built really well as a group,” Scarbrough, who also guided Harrogate back to National Two North this term, explains. “Along all levels, it’s very hard pulling a team together in a short period.

“We are looking at the lads through the year and I think part of the process – and the big thing I have learnt in the three years I have been doing this – is you have probably got the best performers in the league but you have also got the best lads in the league.

“So as long as you’re getting the right mix of good people alongside the very good rugby players, that is massive. One person can essentially kill a culture.

“You get that right mix of people, it then makes that short turnaround time more focused on the on field stuff because you know off the field, they will gel pretty well. It has been a process of learning from that side of things.

“The other big thing which comes into it is selecting a team of players who were committed to every session which is very difficult. Lads have finished a long season, they want to book a holiday, they want some time off but those who committed to the full programme were the ones that got the nod.

“Ryan Burrows [Sheffield] is a classic example. He is ageing like a fine wine. He had a great season in National Two and has said he had wanted to play for Yorkshire for a number of years but now the time was right. He has been tremendous for us.”

To emphasise Scarbrough’s point, some of the stars that lit up National Two North such as Sheffield duo Burrows and Elliot Fisher, Lewis Minikin and the league’s top-try scorer Sam Taylor played over 92 per cent of their club’s league games this season, highlighting their talent as well as their commentiment.

And this also filters into Yorkshire’s opposition, Kent. Taff Gwilliam’s troops – who are the current County Championship Division 1 holders after winning the tournament for the first time in 96 years last year – were handed a walkover result in their last game against Surrey meaning they return to Twickenham off the back of three ‘wins’ from three.

They have a squad sprinkled with exciting names from National One outfit Blackheath – including versatile back Leo Fielding – along with those from National Two East such as Westcombe Park’s Raffa Dutta and Sevenoaks rising star Barney Stone but Makin knows when it comes to the County Championship, you can’t focus too much on the opposition.

“I have been involved in this structure for a number of years,” he says. “When it has worked best is when you try and not over-complicate it. Keep it as simple as you possibly can and concentrate on yourselves.

“You are taking a squad of 25-30 lads together at the end of a long season. You play a Championship which is three or four games long so you have got to keep it as simple as possible. We set ourselves, I suppose, the expectation that we get better game on game and that is what we did from our first game against Somerset [33-31 win] to the Lancashire game.

“It is more about what we can do. We know Kent are a good, solid side but if we do those basics well and follow our process, we can hopefully come away with the victory.”

And 23 years ago, head coach Scarbrough was able to do just that for Yorkshire.


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After a turbulent County Championship which was impacted by flooding and the foot-and-mouth crisis, the white rose took on Cornwall at Twickenham with Scarbrough and co securing a 47-19 success.

Since then, Yorkshire have added just one County Championship trophy to the cabinet but a chance to reprise former glories and clinch a 16th title is now within touching distance.

“The lads don’t need any motivation for it,” says Scarbrough, who scored a try in the final back in 2001.

“It has been two weeks since the Lancashire game so it has given us a bit of time to have a conversation around that and put that to bed so we can really look forward to this week. We know we have to raise it again.

“We are still on this journey and have made that journey a bit longer now. We head to Twickenham and those are the sorts of things people remember. You remember that journey along with the final result so now we need the big result to set it in Yorkshire’s long-term plans and get some silverware for the county to be proud of.”

Elsewhere on County Championship Finals weekend, Oxfordshire face Cheshire in the Bill Beaumont Division 2 showpiece and Devon meet North Midlands in the Division 3 final on Sunday.

The Gills Burns Division 2 and 3 finals are also on Sunday with Hampshire playing Durham and Cumbria taking on Devon.

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