Which Huddersfield rugby union team will turn up to do battle with in-form National League II North leaders Hull Ionians at Lockwood Park tomorrow?

If it’s the one that battled so bravely to secure a dramatic 30-29 triumph at fellow mid-table team Preston Grasshoppers last weekend, then the most eye-catching triumph of the season isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

But if it’s the one that was on show during the demoralising 22-14 home defeat to Birmingham & Solihull seven days earlier, a very long and painful afternoon is on the cards.

Nothing but Huddersfield’s very best will be good enough to match the exploits of an Ionians’ side who have swept almost all before them during a dominant first half of the campaign.

Apart from a 25-15 defeat at second-placed Ampthill two months ago, the men from the east coast have proved unstoppable, chalking up 13 wins from their opening 14 fixtures to move three points clear at the top.

Ionians have also won their last eight games ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Lockwood Park (3.00pm), including a big 50-13 home win over Stourbridge the last time out.

Yet rather than be fazed by the prospect of facing their toughest test of the season, player-coach Gareth Lewis is relishing the challenges ahead for his team.

“This is a classic case of us having nothing to lose and everything to gain,” said Lewis, who again names himself in the starting pack.

“No-one really expects us to do anything, which means all the pressure’s on Hull Ionians and we can just go out there and enjoy ourselves.

“That was the approach we adopted against previous leaders Ampthill at Lockwood Park last month and it so nearly brought us the win (it finished 17-17), so we know what can be achieved if we give it our best shot.

 

“On the other hand, we know what could happen if we don’t play anywhere near our potential, like the other week against Birmingham. They made us suffer, so I know how much worse it could be if we produced a similar performance this weekend. Obviously, no-one wants that.

“But after the character we showed to beat a decent Preston side at Preston last week and leapfrog them into a mid-table position in the process, the mood is positive and the desire to get out there and mix it with the League leaders has grown significantly.

“If you can’t get up for a game like this, you have to question why you’re involved in the first place.”

Even though Huddersfield head into tomorrow’s contest on the back of a good win, several slight changes have been made to the starting line-up.

In-form Dave Hall comes in to replace Charlie Martin on the wing, while in the forwards prop James Purcell and hooker Ross Thornton move up from the substitutes’ bench to join Alex Battye in the front row. They come in for Laurence Sanderson and Henry Walker, who are named as replacements as part of Huddersfield’s rotation policy.

“We thought James and Ross did a good job when they come on at Preston and they’ve earned the right to start this week,” added Lewis.

“But we’re always looking to rotate the side to try and keep everyone as fresh as possible, and we’re confident this is the line-up that can go out there and get the job done.

“We’ve also made the change in the backs, with Dave Hall coming back in after impressing from the bench last week, although that’s bad news for Charlie Martin, who misses out altogether because of the decision to pick Mike Clarke among the substitutes after he was left out last week.

“It is tough having to tell someone they’re not playing, but it’s something we expect to be having to do a lot with the backs over the next few weeks.

“The return of Tom Hodson after his troublesome ankle injury has strengthened us considerably out wide, while the fact we’ve got Nick Rawsthorne eager to play and Elliott Knight and Ollie Scrimshaw playing well for the Falcons means we’ve got a lot of good options available to us.

“Hopefully, this extra competition for places will help us take our team performance up an extra notch. Hopefully, we’ll see that against Hull Ionians tomorrow.”