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Category Archives: League Rugby

Colchester v Woodford 1997: The game that triggered Colchester’s demise

crfc_2_029 croppedMost weekends I tweet stats pertaining to the game Colchester RFC are playing next; numbers of wins and losses and other facts that might be interesting.  This coming Saturday Colchester play away at Woodford RFC and it reminded me of a significant game between the two clubs back in 1997 that had an effect on Colchester’s fortunes for several seasons.

Some details are a bit hazy but it was a London 2 North league fixture, level 6 so the same level as this weekend’s game, and I think the match was played in late November or early December.  In those days, the league was made up of 17 teams, each playing each other once, and both Colchester and Woodford were unbeaten with the same number of points, Woodford topping the table with a superior points difference.  Only one team would be promoted and the play-off system was yet to be introduced.

Woodford were one of the big beasts of Essex rugby but Colchester was enjoying one of its most successful spells. They had won the Suffolk Cup for the first time in 1995 (back then the county cup competitions were a big thing) and won promotion to level 6 having been playing at level 7 since the leagues started in 1986.  This was their third season in London 2 North and with an experienced squad they were strong contenders for promotion to London 1 (level 5). 

I remember it was a bright day at Mill Road and Colchester started very well.  They were leading something like 15-0 after 30 minutes with all the momentum, so the home supporters were looking forward to their team topping the table.  Then a Woodford player got injured and it was serious.  An ambulance had to be called and the game was help up for well over 20 minutes while he received treatment on the pitch and was taken to hospital.  Other games were going on so the players just had to wait.  I don’t know what happened during the delay, but when the game finally restarted, the fire that Colchester had shown from the kick off seemed to have gone out and Woodford, having had a respite from Colchester’s dominance, started to play with confidence.  I can’t remember if Colchester scored any more points but they went on to lose that game, and several more, finishing mid-table by the end of the season.

Many of the players that had served the club so well had decided that it was time to retire and the following season Colchester were relegated.  In fact, the sudden loss of so much experience was so severe that the club suffered three successive relegations, dropping four levels, ending up in Eastern Counties Two or level 10.  The subsequent change of fortunes that got Colchester as high as level 5 is a subject for another article, but whenever Colchester play Woodford, I always think back to that game in 1997 as the one that started Colchester’s tumble down the leagues in the late 1990s.

This is my personal recollection of the game, but I would be happy for anyone else who was there in 1997 to correct me on some of the facts by leaving a comment below.


Photograph courtesy of Richard Parker

Paying players in the community game

cash paymentFor as long as anyone can remember there has been debate about players being paid to play Rugby Union.  It caused the creation of the 13-man League code with Union staunchly remaining amateur, although many of us remember stories of ‘boot money’ and players being given mythical jobs by club benefactors.

When the game went professional in 1995 it was no longer illegal to pay players to play rugby, but even 20 years on many clubs below the Premiership and Championship are still reluctant to admit that theirs is anything but amateur.  In most cases this is true but there are a significant number of clubs playing at quite modest levels who feel that paying players is the right thing to do.

Clubs at Levels 3 and 4 (National 1 and National 2 North & South) are regarded as semi-pro as are clubs at Level 5 to a certain extent, although there are some notable examples of clubs playing at these levels that don’t pay any players.

On my travels around clubs in Eastern Counties the overwhelming desire is for paying players to be discouraged at lower levels as it is perceived to be bad for the game overall.  The reasons cited are that it creates an uneven playing field between those that pay and those that don’t, it is encouraging the development of the ‘journeyman player’ who moves from club to club depending on who will pay him the most, and club loyalty is damaged.

At the RFU Council meeting on Friday 14 October the Community Game Board tabled a set of proposals to try to deal with these concerns plus others, such as clubs paying players rather than investing in developing their youth section or in improving their facilities.

A link to the proposals is below but here are some of the highlights:

  • Clubs will have to make an annual declaration saying if they pay any of their players and how much
  • If any clubs at Level 6 and below pay their players then they will not receive any financial support from the RFU, such as:
      • Travel payments
      • Payments from the Supplemental Ticket Fund introduced this season
      • Loans or grants to help with facility development
      • Being considered as a site for one of the 100 RFU funded or jointly funded Artificial Grass Pitches being installed over the next four years
  • Clubs at Levels 3, 4 and 5 will be allowed to pay players up to an amount not exceeding
      • £150k for clubs at Level 3, about £150 per player per game
      • £100k for clubs at Level 4, about £100 per player per game
      • £50k for clubs at level 5, about £50 per player per game

You should read the whole paper to understand all the details but I am broadly supportive of the proposals as far as Level 6 and below clubs are concerned.  For Level 3 to 5 clubs there may need to be some work on the amount of the payment limit but again I am broadly in favour.  It is important to remember that clubs at any level are at liberty to pay players and that clubs at Levels 3 to 5 can exceed the stated limits.  No sanction will be brought against them nor will they they face any kind of penalty other than not being able to access RFU funding.

The loss of RFU support for clubs at Level 6 and below could be significant, not so much in terms of travel payments which are negligible for most clubs when you get to Level 8, nor even the ticket supplement of about £1000 which clubs are yet to start receiving, but in terms of RFU help with facility development.  Hundreds of clubs have made use, many more than once, of the RFF Groundmatch grant for equipment purchases of up to £10,000, a useful amount for most clubs, and they will forsake being considered for major grants towards projects such as floodlights or clubhouse extensions/refurbishment.  In Eastern Counties there is not a single club that has not benefitted in some way from RFU help with its facilities in the past 12 years.

Level 3 to 5 clubs that exceed the limit will lose travel funding but the amounts are not as high as you would think.  On average National One clubs receive about £10,500 in travel grants with Blaydon in the North East (£18k) and Plymouth Albion in the South West (£23k) getting the highest amounts.  But with some playing budgets rumoured to be well in excess of £500k, the loss of £10k or less is comparatively insignificant.

In National 2 North the largest travel grant is just under £8,000 and in National 2 South the average is a little under £9,000, although some clubs in the South West receive in the region of £20k.  I only have figures for the London & South East Division where clubs receive about £1100 on average but those situated near the Suffolk and Norfolk coast generally receive in excess of £3500 :

  • Level 5; Highest £2971, Lowest £660, Average £1001
  • Level 6; Highest £5200, Lowest £330, Average £1308
  • Level 7; Highest £3549, Lowest £0, Average £1031
  • Level 8: Highest £3797, Lowest £0, Average £1150

My conclusion is that an inland club without a need for any facilities help probably won’t be much affected by paying players or exceeding the limits.

Will the self-declaration proposal work?  A cynic would say that if a club wants to circumvent the rules then they will find a way.  However, it is likely that at least one of the four officers required to sign the declaration, President, Chairman, Hon Secretary and Treasurer, is a member of a professional body or cannot afford to have his/her integrity questioned if it is discovered that they have made a false statement.  No doubt there will be one or two unscrupulous clubs that will do their best to pay players and still receive RFU funding, but the penalties for being found out are likely to be harsh and could include deduction of league points.

Are these proposals necessary?  Ultimately that is for clubs to decide through their Council Members who according to the published timetable will be asked to vote on them at the 2 December Council meeting.  For my part I will be writing to club officials in Eastern Counties to ask for their views, I will attend what county meetings I can in the next seven weeks and I will be discussing the subject at clubs I visit.

Meanwhile, I would value any opinions and debate posted on this blog or on my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

You can read the tabled proposals by clicking here

Related Articles:

Eastern Counties Leagues 2016/17

12640462_1120266951325385_8878196756175680673_oThe ECRU League fixtures for the coming season have finally been made available so I’ve had a look through to see what changes there are from last season.  Numbers of teams participating have increased from 88 last season to 92 which is very encouraging, although it is worth checking which are the new teams.

There are in fact six teams joining the ECRU leagues as Harwich & Dovercourt have opted to play in Essex 1, having twice missed promotion from EC2 South despite losing just three games and a play off over the past two seasons.  Another year in EC2 South would probably see a number of one-sided games and the likelihood of players joining other clubs with more challenging fixtures so, with Eastern Counties’ blessing, they applied to play in Essex.  The team will have harder opposition but I am sure they will do well having seen them play.  There is also the bonus of a local derby against Clacton and I have already put their first clash in the diary.

Maldon III have done the reverse of Harwich and moved from the Essex Merit Tables to EC4 South.  The team was getting frustrated at the number of call offs by sides based in Greater London and decided that a league with Colchester V, Mersea Island II, Mistley II and Brightlingsea II would see the opposition more likely to travel to them while reducing their own travelling too.  The furthest they will have to go is to play Woodbridge II and Stowmarket III.   A note of caution however as Mersea and Stowmarket struggled to field their second/third teams all last season, but if the opposition can lend players and if the team with a bye each week in this nine-team league can make its players available for other clubs, it could prove to be a rewarding season for all.

North Walsham III, Dereham II and Thetford II are new to EC4 North which has a new format.  The ten-team league is split into two groups of five on a rough East/West basis.  Each team plays the others home and away, then the top three in one group play the top three in the other group twice giving 14 games in total, while the bottom two teams in each group also play each other giving them 12 league games.  This means fewer games than if they played in a traditional format but it means less travelling for most of the season and the likelihood of evenly matched games towards the end of the season, so increasing the chances of most if not all of the games being played.  It is a concern that with three new teams clubs may not have enough players available every Saturday, but with at least two sides not having fixtures most weeks I would hope that players would be prepared to play for other clubs for the sake of getting a game.

11707445_1077907632227984_7010929766629228142_nThe final new teams are Haverhill & District II and West Norfolk III who join EC3 West where West Norfolk they are likely to find travelling a challenge.  There is a prospect of a local fixture with Wisbech II only 15 miles away but the next nearest opponent is Newmarket II and the furthest away is Saffron Walden III with most away games in and around Cambridge.

In the North leagues the rurality of the area coupled with generally poor road links mean that players are used to longer journeys, although this coming season EC3 North isn’t too bad with Beccles II, Southwold II, Lowestoft & Yarmouth II and Gt Yarmouth-Broadland II all vying for East Coast bragging rights. In EC2 North most of the ten clubs are in and around Norwich although the outliers of West Norfolk II, Gt Yarmouth-Broadland II, Diss II and Fakenham II will have a bit of a trek to play each other.

EC3 South has teams spread all over Suffolk and North Essex with most of them having at least one local derby, although Aldeburgh & Thorpeness will have to travel at least 25 miles for every away game.  But I expect the club to do well this season after relegation from EC2 South and motivation to travel is  much higher when you have a winning team.

EC2 North has two distinct clusters; Brightlingsea, Mistley, Mersea Island and Colchester IV in North East Essex, and Stowmarket II, Sudbury II, Ipswich II and Hadleigh in Mid/East Suffolk.  Felixstowe are the exception but at least the A14 gives them reasonably quick access to the other clubs.

I am particularly looking forward to seeing how the EC1 league pans out.  For the first time, non-first teams will be competing in the shape of Bury St Edmunds III and Colchester III and it will be interesting to see how they get on against teams that have ambitions to gain promotion to the London Leagues.

So more teams taking part means that grass roots rugby is growing in Eastern Counties and the structure of the new Eastern Counties leagues, about to start its third season, has had some influence.  Along with relaxed registration rules at lower levels and the message from the CB that it is better to play with reduced numbers than not to play at all, teams are less likely to call off.  I am a little concerned that some of the new teams will struggle for numbers, particularly later in the season when injury start to take their toll, but if players can be encouraged to turn out for other teams when they have a gap week, we can enter an era of inter-club cooperation that may see our game continue to flourish.

Fixtures for all the Eastern Counties Leagues will be on the ECRU website soon at www.ecrurugby.com or you can view them by clicking here

Eastern Counties 2 play-offs confirmed

ECRU Competitions Chairman John Mackay confirmed the arrangements for the Eastern Counties 2 play-offs in the following letter to participating clubs:

Following the weekend’s results and subject to any last minute surprises from the RFU ‘cascade’ process, the play-offs for promotion to EC1 are now confirmed and are as follows:



The matches will take place at 15:00 next Saturday, 7th May and the home team is shown first. Home advantage is determined by respective playing records and Harwich have joined the pool as the best runner-up across the three divisions of EC2 following Mersea Island’s withdrawal from EC1 and Thurston’s subsequent reprieve under RFU regulations.

The winners of the two play-offs will be promoted to Eastern Counties One.  But don’t be surprised if there is another twist or two in this saga!

Ups, downs and play-offs

WP_20160428_15_02_13_RawThe league season is over for most clubs so now is a chance to look at who went up, who was relegated and who is in the play-offs.

Cambridge are within touching distance of promotion to National One despite losing in a thriller last week at Bury St Edmunds 43-38.  A win at home against relegated Dorking on Saturday will be enough.  I have the honour of presenting the National Two South winners with the league trophy and for obvious reasons I hope it is Cambridge, but if the worst happens I will have to race over to St Albans and make the presentation to Old Albanians instead.

Eastern Counties teams promoted in the London Leagues last season have all survived and only one local team has been relegated, Beccles propping up London 3NE so dropping down to Eastern Counties 1.  Saffron Walden will play in London 1N next season and they may be joined by Sudbury who have a home play-off against Hammersmith & Fulham on Saturday.

Eastern Counties 1 champions Ely will replace Beccles in London 3NE while Wymondham have a tricky away play off game at Ilford Wanderers to go up with them. 

Promotion and relegation in the Eastern Counties Leagues below EC1 is anything but simple.  There are three leagues (Eastern Counties 2 North, South and West) feeding into EC1 and the rules say that the three winners have a play-off series with the bottom EC1 team.  This would mean two ‘semi-finals’ and the winners playing for the promotion spot.  So on Saturday Thurston were due to play Gt Yarmouth-Broadland and Colchester III were taking on Bury St Edmunds III.

This was slightly changed this season as there were only 11 teams competing in EC1 so to bring it back up to 12 the winners of the two semis would be promoted.  If Wymondham were to win their play-off that would create an extra space in EC1 so the two losing semi-finalists would play with the winner going up. 

So far so good, but it was never going to be that easy.

Mersea Island have not had the best of seasons and were experiencing difficulty in getting a team together for the further away games.  They have applied to move out of EC1 and play in EC2S next season where the more local fixtures would allow them to rebuild and have more competitive games.  Under RFU rules Thurston, who were bottom of EC1, are reprieved as Mersea go down, but this now means that there are three teams competing for two places in EC1.  Lots of suggestions have been made as to how this should be done but the Competitions committee (who would want their job?) decided that the play-offs should be postponed until after the result of the play-off between Ilford Wanderers and Wymondham is known.  If Wymondham win then an extra space in EC1 is created and all the EC2 winners will be promoted.  If Wymondham lose however, an announcement will be made on Monday 2 May as to how the two teams to be promoted will be decided.  We will know more after the weekend.

In the rest of the ECRU leagues it is a little more straightforward:

  • EC2N – Holt II and Beccles II are relegated
  • EC2S – Ipswich YM II and Aldeburgh & Thorpeness are relegated
  • EC2W – Mildenhall Red Lodge and March Bears are relegated.  I am sure both clubs will find competition a bit easier in EC3W and can start to string some wins together
  • EC3N – North Walsham II and Norwich Union are promoted while Thetford II and Lakenham-Hewett are relegated
  • EC3S – Brightlingsea are promoted as champions and will be joined by Colchester IV but only if Colchester III are promoted to EC1 as there is a rule preventing two teams from the same club competing in the same league in which case Thurston II will go up instead.  Stowmarket III and Mersea Island II are relegated but with 15 call-offs between them this season I think it is unlikely that we will be these team competing in 2016/17
  • EC3W – Sawston are champions but second-placed Shelford IV will stay where they are as Shelford III are in the league above.  Third-placed Cantabrigian III have the same problem with their 2nd team in EC2W so I’m not sure if promotion will be offered to Cambourne Exiles who finished in fourth place or if another solution will be found.  No teams are relegated from this league.
  • EC4N – Fakenham II and Great Yarmouth-Broadland II are promoted
  • EC4S – Southwold II and Bury St Edmunds IV are promoted.

I should add that these are only my assumptions based on the competition rules but there may be other factors that should change things.  You can see all results and tables for the ECRU leagues by going to www.ecrurugby.com

So all eyes on Cambridge, Sudbury and especially Wymondham on Saturday.  Twitter feeds for the clubs if you want to follow their progress during the afternoon:

  • Cambridge @camrufc
  • Sudbury @SudburyRFC
  • Wymondham @WymondhamRUFC and Ilford Wanderers @IlfordRFC (both have Twitter accounts but neither seems to keep it updated; perhaps they may make a special effort on Saturday)
  • You can also follow me @Andrew_Sarek where I will retweet scores as I get them

Eastern Counties league structure proposal voted down

Chairman of the ECRU Competitions committee, John Mackay, has today written to club secretaries to inform them that the proposed league restructure will not go ahead (click here for details of the proposals).  Of the 23 clubs in Eastern Counties eligible to vote, 11 voted in favour, 6 against with 6 clubs not voting.  Although 48% of clubs voted in favour the required majority was 67%.

Of the 24 Essex clubs eligible to vote, 17 (71%) voted in favour, 3 against with 4 not voting, but any change needed both ECRU and Essex clubs to have a 67% majority so the status quo will remain.

You can read John Mackay’s letter by clicking here which includes information about promotion, relegation and play-offs. 

I will publish more on my blog in due course.

Consultation meetings for League changes

My article about proposed changes to the leagues at Levels 8 and below prompted a lot of debate online on Facebook and on my blog where an Essex based club has tried to redress the balance a bit. 

I want to make it clear that these changes are just proposals and cannot go through unless clubs vote for them.  Consultation meetings have been arranged in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk and if your club is affected by the proposals then you should make sure they are represented at one of the meetings.  You don’t have to go to the one in your county if another date is more convenient as the agenda will be the same at each one:

  • Wednesday 20 April, Shelford RFC
  • Thursday 21 April, Sudbury RFC
  • Monday 25 April, Lakenham-Hewett RFC

A change in the local league structure

The Adult Competitions Review’s recommendations are due to be laid to rest at the forthcoming RFU Council meeting, but a significant change to the structure of the Eastern end of the London Leagues is being consulted upon.

The 2014/15 season saw the revamp of the Eastern Counties Leagues with nearly eighty teams, including 2nd, 3rd and 4th XVs, being placed into eight leagues with promotion and relegation between them, although with some relaxed rules at the lower levels in terms of players number, uncontested scrums etc.  As we get towards the end of the second season playing with this structure, it has proved to be successful with more teams taking part and more games being played.

Its success has been due in no small part in keeping the leagues local so trying to minimise travel for teams, and the travelling issue has been brought into sharp focus by five cancellations to date of games in London Two North East and London Three North East.  All the transgressors have been from Essex with Eastern Counties Clubs losing home games, with Holt and Lowestoft & Yarmouth suffering two call-offs each and Cantabs one (See Holt and the game that never was). 

This is a problem that is unlikely to go away so the Eastern Counties Competitions committee got together with their Essex counterparts and have proposed that London Three North East is split between the two areas and Eastern Counties One is split North and South.  There will be consequences for teams in the lower leagues too.

All clubs in Eastern Counties have been emailed with details of the proposals.  I have reproduced the text of the email below and links to its attachments are underneath, including illustrations of how the new structure would look, but it would be good to get the opinions of the wider rugby playing population in the area. 

Pros and cons have been identified: 

  • On the plus side there are fewer long journeys to away games and as such there may be more travelling support and therefore more revenue for home sides.  Shorter journeys will also mean more players will return to their home club afterwards boosting revenue there and travel costs will be lower for players and for clubs
  • Against the restructure is the perception that a team’s status has been downgraded if they are playing more locally.  The movement of teams to create the new structure could mean big differences in playing quality between top and bottom which may take some time to even out, with the fear that standards may drop rather than improve

If this is something that will affect you or your club, please take the time to read through the documentation and voice your opinion by commenting on this blog or on Facebook.

Dear Club Official

You may be aware that the RFU has been conducting a review of the adult game within England. The original proposals which involved, amongst other things, flattening league structures to reduce travelling times and the introduction of 12 team leagues were met with some heavyweight opposition and the original Review Committee was asked to go back to consult further and reconsider its proposals.

To cut a long story short, it seems that the chances of any significant proposals being agreed and implemented is extremely unlikely.

Despite the above, it appears both from the research conducted in the above exercise and from our own experience in talking to clubs and players while reorganising the EC Leagues, that there is a reluctance by players to travel long distances to play their league matches. This is borne out by the increasing number of fixtures lost – in particular as a result of the reluctance of some Essex based teams to travel to away fixtures in parts of EC- with the consequent loss of playing time and revenue for those teams affected.

In conjunction with Beiron Rees, the Essex representative, the London Divisional Organising Committee was asked whether or not they would consider a proposal to regionalise London NE3 (Level 8) if it was supported by the affected clubs. It was agreed that such a move would be possible subject to the required consultation and formal agreement of a significant majority of the clubs affected in each CB. It was determined that the ‘relevant clubs’ were those currently in London NE3 and also all Clubs in London NE2 and EC1 who might be affected in future years were they to be promoted or relegated into LNE3. Should a majority in favour of the change be obtained, a formal motion would be put to the AGM of the London DOC in May.

The EC Management Committee agreed unanimously at a meeting on 14th March to go ahead with consultation to seek the approval or otherwise of the affected clubs within EC and we understand that Essex have also agreed to consult.

Some of the pros and cons were given as follows:


· Increased player participation / retention (players working Saturday mornings, more likely spousal approval etc.)

· Reduction of disparate ‘home’ and ‘away’ teams from the same club

· Increased numbers of spectators from away teams

· Increased revenue from lunches, bar etc. due to the above

· More likelihood of players returning to home club after matches for socials etc.

· More press coverage as more ‘derby’ matches

· Reduction in travel costs to players and/or clubs


· Perceived loss of status

· Over familiarity within playing population (need a different challenge)

· Dilution of playing standards

· Too big a jump / culture shock to level 7

I am attaching a ‘snapshot’ taken two weeks ago to show which league each club could possibly play in next season. This cannot be finalised until the end of the season and the implications for EC Leagues 2-4, in particular, would be discussed with clubs at the League meetings which are taking place later in April. It is likely that there could be at least two alternative proposals for these clubs to consider.

The attached letter is being sent to all affected clubs in EC and Essex CB’s and I would strongly urge you, after consulting within your club, to return the completed form to Ian Forton by 17th April to ensure that your views are taken into account.

To ensure all affected clubs receive this correspondence, copies are being sent to League Contacts, Club Chairmen and Honorary Secretaries; please ensure that only one copy is returned to Ian reflecting the view of your club.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to hear from you.

Kind regards,

John Mackay

Holt and the game that never was

In the original version of this article I wrote that Basildon, having called off their game again Holt, had arranged another game away at Tabard. This was not true and I apologise unreservedly to Basildon RFC and its members for my mistake. The amended version is below.

OnWP_20160305_11_47_17_Raw[1] Saturday I went to Holt RFC where I was to present a pair of plaques at the pre-match lunch.  On the Friday I received an email saying that Holt’s opponents, Basildon RFC, had called off citing a lack of players.  However, the lunch was still on and despite the fact that I wouldn’t see a game of rugby I decided that I should still attend.

Before I left I did a bit of research as I was pretty sure that this wasn’t the first time this season that an Essex club had called of against an Eastern Counties club this season.  Sure enough, Upminster had cancelled their game at Lowestoft & Yarmouth in September, Campion called off against Holt on 5 December and the following week May & Baker failed to make the journey to Lowestoft.  I later found out that Campion called of against Cantabs this weekend as well.

We all know that clubs have difficulties from time to time for various reasons.  The day Upminster called off their game was the date of the England v Wales game in the Rugby World Cup and it may have been that may of their players had tickets.  Campion and Basildon are propping up London 2 North East and are certainties for relegation so motivation is low, but at this level you would expect the players to understand that the higher you go up the leagues to further you are likely to travel.  It is not as if they have very long journeys every week when in their league half of the twelve teams are in Essex and they only have to make the 135 mile trip to Holt once, and the journeys to Norwich and Diss are less than two hours in a coach.

WP_20160305_15_24_10_Raw[1]Clearly there was a lot of anger at Holt about the Basildon call-off.  The club is in the middle of a major overhaul of their facilities, the social area where we had lunch now one of the best available in Eastern Counties, and match-day income is very important as it is to every club.

In the absence of a game I agreed to have a short Q&A session with the 70 or so club members that decided to support the club at the lunch and not surprisingly the subject of sanctions against Basildon came up.  The team is already doomed to relegation so a deduction of league points this season will make no difference to them, but it is likely that the deduction will take effect next season so Basildon will start the 2016/17 league campaign on –5 points.  There is no mechanism for extracting some sort of compensation payment from a club that calls off although it is always worth sending an invoice for expenses incurred, e.g. food, agreed staff hours, pitch preparation,etc.

Any decision to apply further sanctions will be up to the London Organising committee and it is possible that regulations will not allow them to, but clubs in Eastern Counties have had to deal with financial losses, players have gone without games and supporters (including me) have had to do without their weekly rugby fix.  There are a lot of unhappy people in North Norfolk.

Eastern Counties Leagues review

10604621_1112850485400365_5373395293319935042_oAfter my review of the National and London Leagues I am having a look at the Eastern Counties leagues as we reach the last few weeks of the competitive season.

In Eastern Counties One, three teams are vying for the automatic promotion slot and the play-off place with Ely two points ahead of Wymondham, both of whom have four games left to play, while Wisbech have five games left to play and are 5 points behind the leaders.  If Ely can record bonus points wins in the rest of their fixtures they will be promoted thanks to a vastly superior points difference, and with their remaining games against teams in the bottom half of the league there is every chance they will do so.  The play-off place will probably be decided when Wisbech play Wymondham on 16 April.

Promotion from EC2 North, South and West isn’t easy to predict, not least because it is dependant on a number of factors other than just results.  First of all, there are currently only 11 teams in London 3SE and EC1 after the withdrawal of Old Brentwoods and Colchester II, so the organising committee needs to decide how to deal with that.  Then the result of the play-off between the the runners up in Essex 1 and EC1 will decide if there is space for an extra EC2 side, then there is the number of Eastern Counties sides that will relegated from London 3SE to consider.  Only then can there be a decision about how many teams will be promoted into EC1 and whether it will be an automatic process or if there will be play-offs involved.

The probable winners of the EC2 leagues look to be clear cut.  In EC2 North, Gt Yarmouth-Broadland are nine points clear of Dereham who have a game in hand, but the two teams play each other on 5 March and a Dereham win will make things very tight.  In EC2 South Colchester III’s close win over second place Harwich & Dovercourt last week has given them a six point lead with three games to play, while in the West Bury St Edmunds III are nine points clear of Cantabs II.

In EC3 North Diss III lead the way although the two promotion places are likely to be decided when they play North Walsham II in second place and Norwich Union lying in third.  At the bottom, Lakenham-Hewett and Thetford II have struggled at different times of the season and they will find life in a lower league a bit easier.

EC3 South sees Brightlingsea top with two games to go but Thurston have three to play and are just three points behind, but is unlikely that any other teams can catch these two.  Meanwhile Mersea Island II prop up the table having called off six games and Stowmarket III are just above them having conceded five games.

Sawston has seen a resurgence of form and top EC3 West 11 points clear of Shelford IV, who in turn are 10 points ahead of third-placed Cambourne Exiles.  Sawston is a small club that has struggled in past years but the new league structure is clearly suiting them.  If they can continue to recruit more players they could do well in EC2 West.

In EC4 North the leaders are Fakenham II, four points ahead of Great Yamouth-Broadland II with two games left to play, although they meet each other on 19 March in what could be the title decider.  What is more of interest in this league is the turnaround in the number of call-offs compared to last season.  In 2014/15 there were due to be 108 matches played but 55 were called off, more than half.  This season, of the 47 games scheduled to be played so far this season, 16 or about a third have been cancelled.  This is still a figure higher than we would want to see but it is a step in the right direction and next season should see fewer one-sided games after promotion and relegation, so theoretically fewer call-offs.

In EC4 South there is a similar story to tell with only 7 games out of 46 called off.  Southwold II have a comfortable lead over Bury St Edmunds IV at the top while Brightlingsea II prop up the table.

I should point out that promotion and relegation is not cut and dried as there may be other factors that decide who goes up and down, but I have tried to give an indication of what might happen.  At the end of the season I’ll have a look to see who actually went up and down, then make a comparison with last season as to games played, call-offs etc.

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