Disappointment as return of contact rugby is pushed back to January

Rugby ball.

Rugby ball. - Credit: Archant

Bideford have scaled down training sessions after the ‘disappointing’ announcement from the RFU that there will be no contact rugby until January 2021 at the earliest.

A cohort of 35-40 players has been getting together twice a week at King George V to train under new coaching duo Jordan Petherbridge and James Starkey.

Starkey and Petherbridge were working towards a hoped-for start in November and a season of 18 or 19 games in a regionalised Western Counties West.

With no prospect of playing before Christmas, the coaches felt training had to be trimmed to once a week.

“Now we know we won’t be able to play any contact rugby until January at the earliest we decided to cut back on training frequency,” said Starkey.

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“There are only so many times you can do the same thing before everyone gets fed-up with it – and most of the lads have been doing it since early July.

“Numbers have been good ever since we started and the players were looking forward to what looked like being a good season.

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“But maintaining the intensity we have been working at for another three months without any competitive rugby was not realistic. We will take a few weeks off then start back again.”

Clubs all over the West Country were hoping to move from level six to level seven on the RFU’s eight-stage plan for the return of rugby any time now.

Starkey said the challenge now is to keep players interested taking part in a cut-down season once Twickenham bosses give the go-ahead to start playing.

“It was disappointing news because everyone wants to get stuck into competitive rugby,” said Starkey.

“If we can get started in January then we can expect a 12-game season of home and away games against the six other teams in our conference.

“If we win our conference there will be a play-off against the teams in the West division to decide the overall winners.

“Personally, I hope it will be competitive and not just glorified friendlies. If there is not the edge of something to play for I am not sure how many of our lads will want to play.”

Provision in the playing regulations has been made to extend the season into May if additional time is needed to complete the East Conference fixtures.

Starkey said the cricketers in the squad might face a clash of commitments, but he did not view it as a massive problem.

“We are lucky we have our own ground and skilled people looking after it so playing into May would not be a problem,” said Starkey.

“We have a couple of cricketers – I’m one – but other clubs will be in the same position and it is so far away I am not worried about it.

“What I would be worried about is some of the rock-hard pitches we might have to play on at mid-May, if the season drags on that long.”

Starkey confirmed the appearance at training of two new faces and a former Bideford player who has returned to the club.

“Tom Gooch has come to us from Torrington to compete for a place at full-back or on the wing,” said Starkey.

“Harry Causer, who was a colt at Barnstaple, has signed and is another option at fly-half.

“Paul Thomas was with Bideford until about seven or eight years ago, then went to Barnstaple. He is a prop and I believe his last club was Cullompton.”

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