National League 1: Captain Sam Winter returns from three months out with fractured arm for trip to Plymouth Albion as Bishop's Stortford make five changes
Sam Winter will give Bishop’s Stortford a huge New Year boost when he returns from a three-month injury lay-off for the match at Plymouth Albion on Saturday (January 8, kick-off 2pm).
The captain has been sidelined since fracturing an arm in their 33-25 defeat at Leeds Tykes in National League 1 on September 18.
The outside centre is one of five changes to the Stortford side that started the 24-19 home defeat to Cambridge a week before Christmas.
He forms a new centre pairing as Dan Powell switches from No 13 to full back in place of Mike Ayrton while Ayrton's brother James comes in for Ollie Betteridge at inside centre.
Among the forwards, Seb Brownhill and Harrison King, who started the M11 derby on the bench, trade places with Will Roberts and Alex Rayment in the front row and Tom Lewis comes in for James Thacker in the second row.
“It’s massive, it’s great news,” said joint head coach Tom Coleman on Winter’s return. “It’s no secret we’ve struggled to finish games off and lacked experience in certain areas.
“Sam has been one of the best players in the league in his position for some time. It’s an art playing at No 13 and those players are hard to find.
“Sam leads by example with what he does on the pitch. We can’t put too much pressure on him, but he should certainly galvanise the lads.”
Stortford, who have won two of their last five matches having lost the previous five, are 11th in the table. They are three points better off than Plymouth, who sit 13th having won two of their last six fixtures.
“It’s probably easier to start the year with a home game, but that’s the way the fixtures are and once we’ve played Plymouth we’ve only really got one more long trip to Caldy,” said Coleman. “We’ve got to see it as an opportunity to start the new year fast.
“We’ve not been as good or consistent as we’d have liked in the first half of the season, but we’ve been in worse positions at this stage of the season so we’ve got to attack it now and show people what we’re capable of.
“We’ve drawn a line under the first half of the season and now we want to kick on. We want to put good performances in and get some consistency as we haven’t won back-to-back games.”
Meanwhile, on-loan forward Toby Knight has been named in the England under-20 elite squad for 2022. The Saracens player, who is currently injured, will join up with young international colleagues to compete in the forthcoming Under-20 Six Nations, with games due to be shown on BBC iPlayer.
Stortford line-up: Powell, Gilham, Winter (c), J Ayrton, Smith, Cullen, Smart; Brownhill, King, McCrone, Charter, Lewis, Apperley, Wrafter, R Banks. Replacements: Rayment, Roberts, Bridges, Jones, Linney.