I had a great couple of weeks in New Zealand but once back in the UK it was back to work and to local Rugby. I returned on Wednesday 15th and after a couple of days to get over the jet-lag my first visit was to Stowmarket RFC who are celebrating their fiftieth season.
Their first game 50 years ago was against Sudbury and as luck would have it the fixture computer had drawn the two clubs together for Stowmarket’s first home game of this season. There were close to 100 people sitting down for the celebration lunch including some of those that played in that first season. Since then Stowmarket have had their ups and downs, tasting success when using Fijians based at RAF Wattisham. However, this was short-lived and the club, under the chairmanship of John Phoenix, decided instead to invest in its youth and its facilities.
The benefits are clear to see. The team playing Sudbury was made up of home-grown players that had won the club promotion at the end of the previous season. The clubhouse has had a major refurbishment and extension and a floodlit pitch has been installed. Unfortunately for Stowmarket the result went against them when I visited but this kind of investment should see them consolidate their position in the London Leagues in seasons to come.
The following week I was at Diss RFC who, like Stowmarket, use largely home-grown players and are investing heavily in their premises. Work is on-going on the £600,000 building project to create new changing rooms and update the kitchen so one of the walls where we sat down for lunch was clearly temporary. I was there with other colleagues from Eastern Counties to present Norman Potter with a solid silver pin badge to recognise his many years of service on the Eastern Counties committee from which he stepped down recently. He had a big influence on how youth rugby was structured in the county and he is still involved in running the game as Hon Secretary at Diss.
Having reached the dizzy heights of National Three (London & SE) Diss were relegated to London One North last season and I was watching their game against Rochford Hundred, newly promoted from London Two North East. The game was a pretty messy affair with both sides dropping the ball with alarming regularity, but Diss got their act together and ran out comfortable winners.
Meanwhile back in New Zealand England plodded through their group games with workmanlike wins over Georgia and Romania and a nail-biting match against Scotland won by a 77th minute Chris Ashton try (I never had any doubt!). I watched the game at Colchester Rugby Club accompanied by30-40 other supporters and a full English Breakfast. I am sure numbers at these early morning events will grow there and at other clubs the further England progress. The form they are showing would suggest that maybe they won’t get much further but England are doing what is being asked of them; they are winning games while avoiding serious injury, Sheridan being the exception.
I still just about fancy England to reach the final but who they will meet is now a little less clear-cut with All Black fly-half Dan Carter being ruled out of the rest of the competition. Choosing the winner between New Zealand and South Africa in the semi-final will be a hard call to make.
Off the field, the Blackett Review into the hiring and firing of John Steele was finally made public and a copy sent to all clubs. It is now up to the game to decide if the action taken by the RFU Board is enough to allay fears over the governance of rugby in England.
Catching up at work after three weeks away and the usual rounds of Eastern Counties and RFU meetings have meant that I have barely had any time to myself in the latter part of this month, and the beginning of October is looking very busy too, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!