After a 13 month period of no matches and fleeting training sessions, Rams RFC now have some fixtures to look forward to as National League clubs begin functioning once again. Photo Credit: [Rams RFC / Tim Pitfield]
It is a glorious evening in Berkshire. The warmer temperatures are a sign that spring has arrived, but the sunshine which beats down on Old Bath Road is a symbol for so much more.
National League clubs up and down the country are slowly coming back to life after a year like no other, and Rams RFC are just one of many teams who saw their players return to training at the end of March.
“You do step back for a bit and take it all in,” says Director of Rugby Seb Reynolds, reflecting on their first session back.
“I do love watching them play and the best moments are when they are out there and playing on a Saturday afternoon and whilst we are not there yet, you can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Reynolds is quick to follow up his optimism with a timely dose of realism as he, like many others, do not want to tempt fate by looking too far ahead following a couple of false dawns towards the end of 2020.
"We can look forward with genuine optimism towards the return of competitive rugby at levels 3 and 4." 🙌
An update from chairman John Inverdale as the RFU and the Government outline a return for community rugby.
— NCA Rugby (@nca_rugby) March 5, 2021
However, it is hard to dampen the spirits of clubs at the moment as a sense of normality starts to creep back into their lives.
For Rams RFC, some form of status quo is most welcome having not played a competitive game of rugby for just over 13 months but in the last few seasons, not sticking to the script has seen the club climb the National Leagues.
After four progressive campaigns in National Two South, Rams stormed to the title in 2018/19 but instead of fending off relegation in National One, Reynolds’ side found themselves in third place before the season was cut short due to the pandemic.
Their journey so far has been one of the highlights of the National Leagues in recent years and Reynolds was delighted to see so many players return to the club to continue their story.
“It has been absolutely brilliant,” Reynolds tells ncarugby.com “To see 40 lads on a rugby pitch – socially distanced – was just so nice. We are keeping sessions very relaxed and there was just smiles on faces too. It has been brilliant to be back.
“Everyone has come back to the club with a real energy. This year off has almost let them see what they have without the game and they don’t want to miss out on that.
“As I say, the players have been excellent. We have given them home training programmes and they have worked on specific goals in lockdown and tried to come back in a better place, but we try to see the opportunities on and off the pitch and actually, we have come back to a better club so that is brilliant for us moving forward.”
— Rams RFC (@Rams_RFC) April 16, 2021
And whilst the retention of senior players hasn’t been a major issue for the National One outfit, the club’s work away from the field has also added to the feel-good buzz in Berkshire.
Alongside several improvements at Rams RFC, they have installed new floodlights at Old Bath Road whilst an impressive 300-seater stand has recently been unveiled.
“We now have floodlights on the first team pitch which we have never had before which gives us the opportunity to have some evening games and we have got a new stand which is brilliant,” adds Reynolds.
“Our committee must be commended on this, especially during Covid. They are a very cohesive group. In tough times, we tried to see the opportunities and one of the things we looked at doing was when we can welcome back people to the club, we want to have an improved experience for them.
“We want to tap into the brilliant support we have here so with the work that has gone on off the pitch, we hope it will bring even more energy to our fans.”
Playing in front of supporters might not be too far away for Rams as they are one of the club’s who have organised local friendlies towards the end of next month.
Subject to the Government moving to the third stage of the roadmap out of lockdown on May 17th, the Berkshire outfit hope to be filling their swanky new stand with supporters for a fixture against fellow National One side Chinnor.
The neighbours will play each other home-and-away under the RFU’s adapted laws and Reynolds is excited by the opportunity to play some rugby again.
🚨 ANNOUNCEMENT 🚨
We can now confirm that our Senior Squad will play @Rams_RFC in a May double-header! 😀
Both friendlies will be under adapted laws 🏉
— Chinnor RFC Thame (@ChinnorRFCThame) April 9, 2021
“I think the good thing is that we had discussions as coaches and as players about this,” Reynolds says.
“If we were going to bring the players back for training, it needed to be for something so we have isolated this period into a two-month window, which is April-May. It is essentially designed to get players back into the sport they love, enjoy it, have a couple of games at the end of it and see where we are at.
“What has happened is we have got almost over 50 lads out on the training park and they are raring to go. We are very lucky that we have got a great club down the road in Chinnor that are keen to do the same so we are very thankful to Richard Thorpe [Chinnor Director of Rugby] and Simon Vickers [Chinnor Chairman] that they agreed to the fixtures. They are like-minded like us that they want to give their guys some rugby at the end of May so they have got something to work to.”
For Reynolds, he has also now got something to work towards. The hands-on aspect of coaching has been a rarity for the Rams RFC Director of Rugby over the last 12 months, but he admits he and his backroom staff have continued to stay in contact in order to bounce ideas off one another.
Now they can coach in person, it only adds to the bubbling excitement around Old Bath Road and Reynolds has everything crossed that the upcoming fixtures against Chinnor can be the first step towards a ‘normal’ 2021/22 season.
“I think you have to have a reason for playing,” he adds. “To start with, we have got players who want to play rugby so we wanted to provide them with fixtures.
“Also as a club, we have got lads who joined the team a year ago and not played a game yet. The likes of Paul Schroter, Fergus Taylor and Josh Grimes who have joined the team, we are really excited about seeing them play. These guys haven’t had the opportunity to run out in the blue shirt yet and they are excited to do that and we are excited to see these guys play!
“We will get a chance to look at some players, look at the composition of the squad and see where we are at so when we effectively go into a bit of an off-season in June, we can assess and go from there which will be nice!”