I remember when the rugby season started in September and ended in April, leaving May to August to recharge the batteries, watch some cricket, maybe get some paperwork and admin out of the way and generally take a break from the game.
All that has changed and this year more than ever rugby appears to be turning into a year-round sport. May saw the last of the National League fixtures, County and National Cup finals, the County Championship and the start of the Sevens season. June was quiet domestically (apart from losing a Chief Executive!) but the Churchill Cup and the IRB Junior World Cup gave us plenty of entertainment. July is when I would normally expect to be able to sit back, take stock, and plan for the season to come, but not this year.
I was prepared for the three Beach Rugby tournaments that are run in Eastern Counties in July at Clacton-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth and Southwold. Every year they are great fun and this time 111 teams took part. Clacton’s event has gone from strength to strength and this year was one of the best ever with brilliant sunshine and a great family atmosphere from beginning to end. I couldn’t get to Great Yarmouth as I had to go to Twickenham (see below) but Broadland-Gt Yarmouth RFC have the potential to make it as big event as the other two. Southwold Beach Rugby is an all-weekend affair with teams coming from all over the Midlands and South to take part, and this year saw 50 teams playing fair and partying hard.
Extra rugby activity has been initiated by the ‘Choose Rugby’ campaign launched in the summer, which has been encouraging clubs to run Touch Rugby tournaments on a weekday evening. Quite a few clubs had been doing this informally in the past but the idea has taken off with bigger numbers than I expected. I was invited to a Touch evening at Stowmarket RFC where over 100 people spent a couple of hours in the sunshine playing a seried of games. Men, women, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters took part and it was clear that all were having great fun. The bar was open afterwards and it was good to see a rugby club so busy in what is traditionally a quiet period,
Similar activity has been going on at other clubs around Eastern Counties, notably at Harwich & Dovercourt RFC where their Friday night Touch tournaments have been a big hit (see story on RFU.com). It will be interesting to see to what extent this activity results in more players, volunteers, supporters and sponsors.
The playing side of summer rugby I can cope with; it was the politics of rugby that made July such a depressing month. We had already lost our Chief Executive and the Sunday morning Council meeting to debate the Blackett report saw us lose our Chairman too. I’m sure you have read the salacious details in the press despite Council Members being bound by confidentiality rules. For that reason I won’t go into details but it was the most difficult weekend in my three years as a Council Member (see my previous blog post). I felt very low for a couple of weeks afterwards as I pondered the future of the organisation but my mood started to lift when Jeff Blackett announced that he would not be resigning his honorary position as RFU Discipline Officer. We cannot afford to lose a man with his integrity and honesty.
Political manouvering will begin again next month when the date of the SGM is announced where a new Chairman will be elected, probably in October. The candidates will make themselves known and the lobbying will start in earnest. For my part, I will be going to the Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk committees in September to explain the election process to club representatives and answer questions about recent going-on at the RFU. I assume candidates will be issuing some sort of biography or manifesto and if it is feasible we may organise a ‘beauty contest’ where they can come and tell Eastern Counties clubs what they are about.
Before all that we have the England warm-up games against Wales and Ireland in August to look forward to and then the main event in New Zealand. It will be good to get back to supporting the team and put the problems at HQ to one side, albeit temporarily.