Well what can I say apart from little did I think 12 months ago that as I look ahead I would also be looking back on quite simply the most momentous season in the club’s 85 year history!
Before I reflect on the season and significant developments both on and off the pitch, I want to start with a huge heartfelt thank you to the many individuals, both on the executive committee and off it, whom have again given a huge amount this year whether in terms of time, resources or services and I thank all that have put something into the long-term development and the day to day running of the club. I have again, significantly, been very fortunate to work with a pro-active and dynamic committee, and I shall like to start by thanking each of them too for their help and support and what they have contributed to the club over the past 12 months.
As I say, I have a lot to report regarding activities off the pitch but every year I start by saying we are first and foremost a players club, and I make no apologies for again starting my reflections on the past year with the playing side so let’s rewind 12 months. The 1st XV had finished fourth in London South East Two for the second season in a row but this time it is fair to say we had scraped into that placing. Major changes had seen the incumbent coaches depart and be replaced by a new vibrant and young (and I am even including Cookie in that!) team at the helm. Alex Nicholson continued in an expanded role as Director of Rugby, Matt Cook returned as Head Coach and importantly as a player, with Charlie Harding back home as Player/Coach and Mike Whatman in as Skills Coach. Richard Larkin also reappeared as kicking coach in time for Twickenham…..
Just as significant was an overhaul of the backroom staff. Our Physio provision had been tried and tested for many years but with the increasingly competitive nature of the league and with a clear gap in 2nd XV provision having been highlighted, it was time for change. “Radically” providing physio and condition twice a week and having both the top teams (and occasionally the 3s) covered by designated physios proved a huge step forward and I want to say a massive thank you to Russell Shingles, Nicky Groves and Jazz Shiret who have been some of the unsung heroes of the campaign. They will be part of a further expanded physio provision again this season even if Russell is now Head Physio at Fulham FC!
The Super 2s finished 6th in a highly competitive Invicta League, winning half their 22 games. Next season sees the misplaced Canterbury and TJs 2s leave the league and whilst the competition looks likely to fall to just 9 teams a season of highly competitive rugby week in week out awaits, with a Cup competition too. The 3s felt the Pinkness and again finished a superb second in Late Red Three winning 13 of their 18 matches. I should also spare a word or two to thank a largely third team squad who nobly travelled to play Aylesford Bulls in the Kent Shield semi-final on the day the 1s entertained Matson, rather than forfeit. They put up a valiant effort against a team who were to go on to win the Shield.
This season Owain Withers returns having finished University to captain the 2s (with Mr Chairman helping as Manager) and Billy Harvey returns to the back-benches after appearing at Twickenham to skipper the 3s. Many thanks to Ollie Godbold for several dynamic years at the helm of the 3rd XV.
The 4s with their now customary mixture of wise old heads and young legs competed strongly too before coming 6th in Dragon Fire Four West. And what about the ‘Band of Brothers’ that are the mighty Wells Vets? Guided in his own inimitable style by Father Ed they were simply magnificent in the Kent Veterans League including edging a 79 point thriller by a single point at Thanet to meet old friends Sevenoaks in the Final. That it was the day after the Matson semi-final didn’t help but cheered on by a very vocal travelling support they this time went down by a point. However, they won the fancy dress and the drinking and acquired magnificent old school coloured shirts to remember the day by. They will certainly be looking to go one place better this season.
Pride of place, of course, belongs to the First XV. 29 competitive wins out of 29 (31 out of 31 in total), London South East Division Two Champions and RFU Intermediate Cup Winners at Twickenham….yes Twickenham I will say it again! London South One and some formidable challenges await but I know that the players and coaches will give it their all. What we need to do as a club is mobilise more touchline support both home and away, and there will be a fair few coaches to fill to away games too. I love a coach trip me…..this is our challenge.
I want to officially thank Matt, Charlie, Mike and Fat Pants for their unstinting work; thank the players for giving us a team to be so mightily proud in and thank all the volunteers who put in such sterling work to make the Twickenham experience such a positive one for the club and the town. We really did “Turn HQ Blue”. On the pitch 2016/17 looks likely to be a fiercely competitive one. It certainly will not be a time to rest on our laurels, but whatever happens no one will ever be able to take away our shared memories of the 2015/16 campaign. Thank you.
Several key personnel changes will no doubt take place and at the helm on the pitch as 1st XV skipper will be Lee Campion following Sean O’Connor’s retirement. He will be assisted by Mike Hathaway and Chaz Spence as vice captains.
The Academy (and Colts) section continues to produce our future Senior players and is now very firmly ensconced within the fabric of the club. If success is measured by both the quality and the quantity of senior rugby players coming off the Academy production line then it is proving an unqualified success. Senior Players were very much involved in coaching last year and I know plans are afoot to expand this for next year. They also proudly maintained their 100% playing record.
The Junior and Ladies sections continue to thrive too as does O2 Touch Rugby. Dave Skinner’s Volunteer Scheme is also up and running and has completed some admirable decorating work over the summer. We are also in the process of becoming a Wooden Spoon Partnership Club and further details will follow.
Off the pitch this has been a year of very significant change with the first year of Tunbridge Wells Rugby Football Club Ltd (TWRFC Ltd). Of most practical importance for the rugby club is the fact that we are now in charge of the day to day upkeep of the “House and Grounds”. John Crees has been a force of nature since he answered my SOS last October seeking a Chair for this Committee. We are also now the driving force re future development of the club and grounds and Roger Clarke chairs this sub-committee.
The First XV pitch is now fully operational following the investment and extensive work put into it 12 months ago. It needed some initial protection last season but came through it well. It’s been a very damp and relatively cool period which has been the best possible conditions to get new grass growth well established on our newly drained training area. With good conditions continuing, we should be able to get onto the new training area for the first time around the start of November. As flagged up many months ago until then we have to find alternative arrangements probably from around the first week in September when the light goes. There has been much written about the RFU’s planned provision and funding of all-weather pitches and whilst this is moving slowly please rest assured that we are in the mix, so to speak, awaiting further developments.
The finances of the club are, in general, in a pretty healthy state, allowing for the investment in infrastructure and fabric that we are currently making. We should also officially recognise the massive and continuing importance of all our club sponsors, whether sponsoring a match ball or lunch or making a more significant contribution to the club as a whole. Worthy of particular praise and thanks are AXA PP, Map Environmental, On-Watch, Town and Country and Whiting & Hammond who have been key contributors this year.
The latter sponsored a truncated yet successful 7s event again in May and our position as the official Kent Sevens was reinforced by our being the chosen qualifier for the inaugural national England rugby 24-Sevens event being held this Summer. Interestingly, the National Final was actually won by Seventy7s who won our event in 2013 and 2014……
As we look ahead on the pitch we must not stand still off the pitch too. At Executive Committee level, for example, we are looking to increase the efficiency of the use of all our time and produce more effective lines of communication and focused meetings. To this end I believe we should be looking to more targeted sub-committees (I think it is high time we have a Commercial sub-committee for instance). In particular, there are certain areas of club activity which would be better discussed within such sub committees and via more obvious reporting chains. To this end, I have re-focused the Executive Committee so that it starts to deal with overall strategy and direction rather than the minutiae of day to day activity which would be more effectively channelled through targeted sub-committees.
Ours remains a great and forward-looking rugby club. The heart beats stronger than ever.
Come on You Wells!