Barnstaple can look forward to National Two rugby again next season after being confirmed as South West Premier Division champions.

Barnstaple captain Winston James in action against Camborne in the South West Premier. Picture: Bob CollinsBarnstaple captain Winston James in action against Camborne in the South West Premier. Picture: Bob Collins

When all rugby was suspended in mid-March due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Barum were 18 points clear at the top of the South West Premier table with 25 left to play for.

Using a game-play formula based on home-and-away results over the season up to mid-March, Barnstaple have been declared champions ahead of Maidenhead.

Winston James, the Barnstaple captain, said the RFU had confirmed what every other club in the division would have known already.

“No one could argue that we were anything other than the best side in our division,’ said James.

“Perhaps it is not the way you would want to win promotion, but our promotion is fully deserved.

“I am really proud of the way the lads played over the season; we had a great year.

“The lads played their part, as did our backroom team coaches Bryn Jenkins, Pat McManus and Jordan Petherbridge, who worked with our backs on the last lap of the season.”

Barnstaple were last in National Two in 2017-18 when they were relegated after two seasons.

This time they have gone up as champions, which made promotion that little bit more special for James.

“When we went up before we had to win a play-off game away to Tonbridge Juddians, which was a great occasion in its own right, but this is the first time we have won promotion into National Two as champions,” said James.

Barum were chased for much of the season by Maidenhead and Weston-super-Mare before opening up a gap at the top.

James was reluctant during the season to talk about Barum’s promotion chances, but now admits there was a point when he thought it had to happen.

“Winning 25-17 at Weston in late January was the point when I became convinced we would be going up,” said James.

“Before then I was a bit sceptical, but not after that result.”

James knows National Two is going to be a tough gig based on previous experience and the fate of Bournemouth, who went up last season and have come straight back down with only two wins to their name.

Squad strengthening is desirable and Barum’s management will be doing their best despite the limitations of the coronavirus lockdown.

“We will be talking to some players to see if they would like to join us and keep in touch with the players who have got us to where we are now,” said James.

Bideford were placed eighth out of 14 in Western Counties West when final tables were published by the RFU.

South Molton, who only won once all season in the Cornwall and Devon Division, drop back down into Devon One after finishing at the bottom of the pile.

Waiting for Molton next season will be North Devon rivals Torrington and Ilfracombe, who remain where they are for another campaign.