Following a shake-up of the leagues at the end of last season which saw Merit Tables discontinued and all local teams entered into one of nine divisions (click here for more), I wanted to look at the results of the first weekend to see if there were any conclusions to be drawn.
Two of the key objectives of the reorganisation were to reduce call-offs by having less travelling for players, and to produce competitive matches although it is recognised that it may take a couple of seasons for teams to find their level.
On the second point there were three games this weekend where the winner scored over 100 points, recorded by the second teams of Colchester, North Walsham and Saffron Walden, and a further three where one side scored over sixty points. You would hope and expect that teams winning by such margins would find themselves promoted at the end of the season, and those that struggle would be better off in a lower division. Rather than bemoan being at the wrong end of a drubbing I hope that club officials and players understand that there will be a couple of years of transition after which there should be far fewer one-sided games.
The number of call-offs is of more concern. Out of 33 planned fixtures in Eastern Counties Two and below, eight, nearly a quarter, were cancelled by one of the teams. There may be some understandable reasons for the call-offs but I suspect that in one or two cases a club has entered an extra team expecting that players would be available only for that not to be the case. Hopefully that might change as the season progresses.
A bigger worry is that in Division Four North, only one of the scheduled five games went ahead.
At the lower levels of the Eastern Counties League the rules are much more relaxed than in the London Leagues allowing short-sided games, encouraging the lending of players, uncontested scrums, etc., with little or no penalty. Teams that do not have enough players for a full team must be encouraged to travel and play regardless and the opposition must lend those teams players to allow a fixture to take place. Better to play 12-a-side with uncontested scrums than leave 24 players and a referee without a game at all.
Simon Lord, Hon Secretary at Bury St Edmunds RFC, copied me into an email exchange between himself and the referee who took charge of the fourth third team game against Hadleigh seconds. The referee was full of praise for the spirit in which the game had been played; Hadleigh had turned up despite having only 11 players, but Bury St Edmunds lent them two players and so they had a game of 13-a-side. Although Bury won comfortably, as Simon sais: “The result was an irrelevance…Rugby was the winner”.
If the new Eastern Counties Leagues are to prove successful, it will need this kind of sporting attitude from all competing clubs.
All Saturday’s results are available by clicking here