With the door almost shut on the 2017/18 National League season and with the summer ahead of us, there are a few teams that might be yearning for the first week of the new term to arrive as quickly as possible.
Six clubs clinched promotion to National Two from their respective divisions this season and for some, a higher level is nothing new but for others, it will be an exciting new challenge.
North Premier champions Preston Grasshoppers made an immediate return to National Two following relegation from the fourth tier 13 months ago. Former Fylde Head Coach Paul Arnold took over the reins at Lightfoot Green and guided the Lancashire club to the title following 23 wins from 26 matches.
After being on the wrong end of tight fixtures last term, Hoppers found themselves on the positive side of those results this time around. Added to that, they completed the campaign with a 100 per cent home record and strong displays on their own patch will be key next season.
Dressing Room Celebrations pic.twitter.com/Im6LHz1qhC
— Preston Grasshoppers (@RugbyHoppers) April 7, 2018
Preston’s Paul Arnold: “Obviously, it is very pleasing to help get the club back to National Two at the first attempt.
“We are under no illusions how tough next season will be & the quality of clubs in the league means there are no easy games.
“The players at Hoppers deserve their chance to prove themselves next season & with the addition of maybe a few players, our aim is to stay in the league & build the club up over the next few years to hopefully be challenging at the top of the division.”
The Hoppers are the only side from North Premier to move into National Two as Birmingham and Solihull will be joining Preston from Midlands Premier.
After a three-year absence, Birmingham and Solihull will be plying their trade in the fourth tier once again after clinching the Midlands Premier crown in a record breaking season. Pete Glackin’s men finished the campaign on 113 points after 23 victories and that was enough to secure their first promotion in nine years.
The Bees actually won the title against second placed Peterborough Lions last month, but the Cambridgeshire side – coached by former Tonga international Vili Ma’asi – didn’t settle for the runners-up spot as they beat Hull in the play-off at the end of April. They set up the clash with the Yorkshire outfit after sealing their best-ever finish in the division before writing another new chapter in their history
Five years ago, chairman Andy Moore said he wanted to see the Lions in National Two and a 31-22 win over Hull saw his club achieve his ambition.
— Peterborough Lions (@pborolionsrfc) April 29, 2018
Birmingham and Solihull Head of Rugby Pete Glackin: “It’s been a fantastic achievement. The players & support team have worked extremely hard on & off the field. The league has been relentless & we had an extremely tough run in towards the end of the season. Winning the league away at 2nd place Peterborough Lions RFC with three games to go was a great feeling. It was a memorable day and one the club will cherish.
“The club have been through some testing times over the years. My first-year last season at the club was very much a transition year, developing the right environment & culture within the club & senior squad. Getting promoted to National Two is fantastic & just shows what a great club Bees Rugby is & the club is very much looking forward to playing in National League Two and preparing for some great challenges along the way.”
Peterborough Lions Director of Rugby Simon Moyle: “Beating Hull was an incredible day and night! From the start of pre-season, our main goal for the season was to gain promotion, so to achieve it was amazing and a relief!!
“Our preparations in the couple of weeks before the play-off had been excellent and Vili Ma’asi in his first coaching job has been a revelation.
“It was emotional at the end of the game, to see the tears of joy flowing from many people including both Andy and Vili. It shows how much it meant to have achieved our goal and we are all proud of our achievements.
“However, we are also aware that we cannot rest on our laurels. Vili and I had already started planning for next season in the expectation we would be a National Two side. I’m confident we can give a good account of ourselves next season and create a platform from which to move forward.”
Like North Premier winners Preston Grasshoppers, Barnes have bounced straight back into National Two after suffering relegation last season. They secured automatic promotion from London & SE Premier in their final game of the campaign after a 52-7 win at Sutton & Epsom.
Barnes Coach Paul Spencer: “As soon as we lost to Bishops Stortford at the end of the 2016/7 season and our relegation was confirmed, the committee, coaches and above all the players made a commitment to bounce back up and secure promotion in the 2017/8 campaign.
“Going into next season, the club are looking to improve the squad and make other changes, as we are fully aware of the significant step up in the leagues and as such, will need to recruit and improve in all areas of our game. It is a challenge we will relish.”
— Barnes Rugby Club (@BarnesRugby) April 28, 2018
Barnes were pushed all the way by second placed Guernsey who finished just one point behind the eventual champions, but the Raiders were determined to follow Barnes into National Two South for the first ever time in the club’s history.
Jordan Reynolds’ men beat Bournemouth 38-23 in the play-off to seal their first promotion in six years and now a maiden campaign in the fourth tier awaits.
Guernsey Director of Rugby Jordan Reynolds: “This was by far the toughest season we have had physically and mentally. Competing week in and week out at the top of the league becomes extremely draining on the players. However, the work ethic of all involved to keep developing has been the biggest positive. The players in my eyes gain all the credit for a fantastic season.
“It was a great day and we enjoyed celebrating it with our fans. They have been on this journey with us. When it comes to next season, we just see it as another mountain to climb. We know it will be a challenge, but we are excited by the opportunity.”
— Bristol Rugby (@Bristol_RFC) March 25, 2018
With two teams coming up from London & SE Premier, Dings Crusaders will be the only representative from South West Premier. Coached by former Bath, Exeter and Bristol player Luke Arscott, the Crusaders racked up a century of points to move back into National Two South for the first time since relegation in 2015.