Hon. Secretary’s Report 2011/12.
Reflecting on the things that have happened over the past year it seems that change is in the air for many aspects of the game of Rugby Union Football. That being so, it has been reassuring that continuity has been provided by some of the long serving members of the committee. John Owen, Roger Hackney and Frank Sheppard in particular have been sources of advice and information over an eventful season and I will be sorry to lose the good counsel of Frank, if as he has stated, he steps down from active county duty. His responsibilities over twenty eight years have included the position of Hon Secretary and pioneering the production of plans for the RFU in the areas of Facilities and Strategic Planning, all this in addition to pursuing his refereeing interests.
We have again been represented in the higher levels of rugby organisation by John Owen with involvement in the World Cup 2015 Board and various committees. With his commitments within the county, chairing the Management Committee and the Working Party on Cumbria Leagues, it has been a hard stint and I am sure that we appreciate his commitment. With less involvement next season I hope that some of the pressure will be off and he will have more time for his family.
Change again at club accreditation level, the seal of Approval has been replaced, with a bit less paperwork, by the new RFU Club Accreditation Award and eleven of our clubs proved themselves up to the standard. Aspatria and Netherhall having no youth received the Single Award, seven clubs with youth sections received the Dual Award and Carlisle and Keswick received the Triple Award for Main Club, Youth and Womens and Girls. In the Presidents XV awards Egremont impressed sufficiently to be runners up in the Community Facilities section. These awards are of course only possible through the hard work of the army of volunteers on whom the running of a club depends. It was nice to see some fourteen of them recognised through RFU Volunteers Awards. Not all of them were from the big set ups, members from Silloth and Moresby received due recognition for putting their clubs on the road to success. Finally we had a Rugby Hero, Craig Tyson.
We started our County Championship Shield campaign with high hopes this season. Letters to clubs produced a better response, though there is still room for improvement, as a good squad involving players from fifteen clubs was built up. Bad weather and catch up matches affected the availability of players for squad sessions and selection. Malcolm Brown and his team of coaches worked hard to develop the very promising squad as we approached the pool games. Staffordshire were swept aside 76-3 at Workington and we went down to Mansfield for the Nott’s Linc’s and Derby match. Cumbria started slowly and at half time it was fairly even, but in the second half all the preparation paid off, as we forged ahead to a 12 – 43 victory and a place in the semi final. The draw gave us a home game, Aspatria was the chosen venue, the opposition like last season, Surrey. It was apparent from the kick off that Surrey were in a different league to our previous opposition and threatened the defence whenever they gained possession. Though the Cumbria side showed enterprise at times, they were comfortably beaten 20 - 37 by the side that went on to win the final at Twickenham. To their credit Cumbria had scored twenty tries over the three games. Three Penrith players, three Wigton players and one from Workington received their county caps.
The Under 20 Squad played their last season in the North Division set up, though here there was change, a reduced format, playing in pools of three or four; next season it changes again. Like the senior County Championship there will be a two tier competition and Cumbria will enter the Under 20 County Championship Shield Competition. After some teething problems the squad was assembled and met Cheshire at Workington. They started slowly and fell behind and despite an improved second half losing 14 – 32 to a workman like side. It was then on to Liverpool St. Helens to meet a powerful Lancashire side who ran out comfortable winners at 51 – 22, again a slow start did not help and we returned home with food for thought.
Like last season the weather influenced both squads and posed selection problems when players were called upon for catch up matches by their clubs. Next season Kevin Johnston and his team are again hoping to get round clubs, not just to look at players and liaise with coaches, but also to get the feel of the problems encountered by those clubs as they fulfil their weekly programme of fixtures.
Like last season, the good will of the Community Coaches enabled us to staff the Cumbria Youth Squads at the Under 15 and 16 levels. Next season we might well see a change for the better with members of a more reinvigorated Schools Union showing an interest in assisting with the development of the players. Like last season, the small pool of players meant that the squads struggled. The under fifteen lost 37 - 5 to Durham and 39 – 7 to Northumberland. Despite these results six players impressed sufficiently to become part of the Newcastle Falcons Under 15 training squad. At Under 16 results were no better losing 40 – 7 to Durham and 42 – 21 to Northumberland, but nine players went on to the combined Cumbria, Durham and Northumberland squad, Brett Cannon, Mark Forster and James Christie progressing on to the North squad.
League Rugby was not so severely affected by the weather as last season, but by the end of the league programme there were eleven games to catch up which meant problems for the Cumbria League Cup and Cumbria Challenge Shield conference leagues. Once these were sorted out the final outcome was that Keswick beat Silloth by a margin of twenty points to win the Cumbria League Cup. Moresby after last season’s problems, bounced back to beat Cockermouth in a close final which was expertly hosted by the Netherhall club, in the final of the Cumbria Challenge Shield. Returning to the main league competitions, Keswick romped to the top of the league winning seventeen of their eighteen games and amassing a total of 923 points and ensured their prompt return to the North Lanc’s Cumbria League. They were closely followed by Whitehaven who won sixteen of their games with a point’s difference of 755. There was a gaping divide in the league, the bottom three sides having point’s differences of minus 383, 532 and 675 respectively. My compliments to Wigton Wanderers, Workington Steelers and Aspatria Eagles who showed the commitment and sportsmanship to complete the whole programme of eighteen fixtures. It seems to me that the divide is of little benefit to those involved, the winners will enter an entirely different world on promotion and the losers hardly benefit from a hammering every week. Changes in Cumbrian rugby have been proposed and implemented for an experimental period commencing next season. They have proved controversial, perhaps divisive, but it is clear to me that change in some form, be it next season’s format or some other solution, is essential, if players are to enjoy their rugby. In the Shield League congratulations go to Egremont Seconds who capped a good season to top the table.
Kendal our most senior club in National 2 North started hopefully after their mid table position of last season but things just did not go their way and they will be joining Penrith in National Three North next season. Penrith themselves had a tense finish to their season but a fine win and a bit of help from other peoples results left them safe at eleventh in the table. A points difference for the season of only minus 26 shows how competitive their games must have been, in fact only four teams in the league obtained more bonus points. In North One West, after a slow start Carlisle obtained a respectable mid table position winning 12 and losing 14 games. Wigton finished 12th and newly promoted Aspatria had a tough time, winning only five of their games and propping up the bottom of the table for most of the season. In North Lanc’s Cumbria, Kirkby Lonsdale seemed to spend the season chasing Fleetwood who topped the table. With 20 wins out of 26, Kirkby Lonsdale achieved excellent results scoring 649 points and conceding 286. Upper Eden and St Benedict’s more or less swopped places from the mid table positions of last season. Furness and newly promoted Millom had a hard time winning one and two games respectively. I wish them both luck for next season, as Millom found there is a gap between the Cumbria League and Level 7. Over in North Lancashire Division One, Hawcoat Park had a good season winning sixteen of their games while Windermere newly promoted from Division Two finished twelve out of fourteen.
In Cup Rugby Penrith beat Carlisle to achieve their fourth successive win in the Cumbria Cup. The Cumbria Plate went to Keswick this season. The holders, Carlisle, relinquished the Vase to Kendal in the final.
Turning to the Youth scene I find that nine clubs are running Mini/Midi Rugby sections and thirteen clubs have squads Under 13 to 17. At the mini level change is again in the air with some relaxation of the age banding rules for our smaller sections. Cumbria will be piloting the new Shaping the Game 4-a-side format for Under 7 and 8s next season. It is hoped that it will give the young players more involvement and handling opportunities, though the number of games it will generate might prove a test of club facilities and personnel. At club level organisers have sensibly overcome the county’s travel and distance problems by arranging triangular fixtures in order that the youngsters gain enough playing experience. Thanks should go to Kirkby Lonsdale, Silloth and Cockermouth for hosting Mini Rugby festivals which are the highlight of most youngsters seasons. At the 15-a-side level the county competitions produced some closely contested finals. At under 13 a very tight local derby saw Kirkby Lonsdale beat Upper Eden 7-0 and the remaining finals were equally competitive. At under 14 Egremont beat Carlisle 22-10. Under 15 saw Carlisle overcome Penrith two converted tries to one. Carlisle achieved double success by beating Keswick 25-12 in the Under 16 final, but Keswick were rewarded with success at Under 17 beating Penrith 17-8. Penrith in their turn met with success by overcoming Wigton 12-8 at Under 18. Such a competitive set of finals brings credit to the squad coaches and bodes well for the future.
Another change for the better was the revival of the awards Night under the guidance of Roger Hackney. This provided the opportunity to present the Volunteer Awards and county caps as well as the usual categories. I had better mention Keswick as team of the year, Abbie Scott as Young Player of the Year and Gerry Garvey for the Referees Award. It was good to see due recognition being given to these and to the others who received their awards.
In Women’s and Girl’s Rugby a lot of care has been put into recruitment assisted by Liam’s CRCs and the Touch Programme, but it is not easy going, established sports take precedence in many schools and the initiatives did not work out as planned. Due to the small club base, girls are still getting a lot of their experience with the county; some doing rather well, at the senior level Abbie Scott and Lisa Richards have represented England Under 20s and Scotland Seniors respectively while Julie Walker at the senior level and Chloe Squires at Under 15 have represented the North. Three senior county matches were scheduled but only two played as Durham dropped out. Away to Lancashire they lost 45-0 and away to Northumberland lost 46 - 12. The Under 18s and 15s combined with Durham for their fixtures, the 18s won one and lost one, the under 15s lost both their games.
Our clubs are to be congratulated on giving the Disciplinary Committee another quiet season. Three up on last season, twenty two cases were heard, one of which was found not guilty as another player admitted the offence. This season offences were often for two red cards or dangerous tackles, areas coaches could work on. Sadly one club has been cautioned as to its disciplinary record. I am pleased to report that last season’s malaise where match officials were the butt of abuse has not reared its ugly head to the same extent, though one serious incident does have to be dealt with. At the Youth level a certain amount of unfairness arose when clubs failed to follow guidelines and different clubs treated similar cases in different ways, hopefully in future they will follow the guidance now issued. I must thank Dave Morton, as Secretary of the committee, for the care with which his minutes are prepared and his promptness in sending them to me.
At county level a number of issues have taken our attention though the routine reports and feed back are of equal importance. An ongoing issue was again the workings of the University of Salford Leagues and their impact on the Cumbria structures and the way in which the Cumbria League and Cumbria Shield Leagues were working. Though this had been covered several times in Management Committee meetings matters came to a head at the January Special General Meeting held at Creighton where the various clubs represented made it clear that things could not go on as they were. The unusually good attendance at that meeting gave added weight to the arguments and a Working Group under the chairmanship of John Owen was set up. A consultation meeting on 12th February was held “To ensure competitive and reliable competition for all” and the Working Party then presented its conclusions to a specially called General Meeting on 21st March. Strong arguments were presented for and against the recommendations; which were to recall all Cumbria clubs to a new Cumbria 1 League at level 8 and two Cumbria 2 Leagues at level 9 for an experimental period. After considerable discussion the proposals were accepted by a two thirds majority. Some clubs finding themselves well served by the existing set up were very strongly opposed and appealed to the Management Committee, the RFU, and approached Lancashire, as ways of retaining the status quo. The proposed new set up is, as I have mentioned above, extremely controversial but things have finally settled down and entries have been made to the appropriate leagues. There is now an immense responsibility on all those who asked for and voted for the new structure, to make it work; to find players when short, no more cry offs; to find referees if there is a problem. Those who opposed also have the duty, to bringing some good will to the experiment.
Sadly the controversy has overshadowed other issues considered by the Management Committee, some in my opinion rather more important. Andy Hampshire, Tim White and Mike Firby have been warning us of a looming crisis for the referees Society with a shortage of officials. They can no longer service Youth matches and have to give priority to league matches, friendlies taking second place. This was particularly hard for Gosforth Greengarth as they rebuilt after last season’s disasters. A lot of effort has been put into identifying and developing club based referees, they don’t even have to join the Society, but it has proved hard going. At the Junior level, the Young Officials award has been promoted among schools and clubs but this will take time to feed through and something is needed now. Each clubs must take the issue seriously and look to their own members for a solution. On a more positive note the Management Committee was able to approve a new sliding scale of transport subsidy for the soil reliever which means all clubs will pay the same, £35-00 however far this valuable piece of equipment has to be carried. A Volunteer Development plan was well received by the RFU and fourteen people received training and then the award. Our enterprising Rugby Development Partnership submitted this year’s Development Plan to the RFU where it was again well received, no doubt helped by the way in which they had delivered almost the whole of last season’s plan so effectively. Peter Beasley and his committee are to be congratulated on the way in which they have managed an extensive budget and delivered their programme. We have become aware of a revived Schools Union beginning to work effectively again and looking ahead by formulating an extensive programme for next season and showing ambitions to become generally more involved in the Youth Scene. We heard the Youth Committee, which looks after the club side of youth, gaining in strength and organising a sound programme, making effective provision for our future players. The committee was particularly pleased to grant consent to clubs who wished to tour at all levels Mini/Midi, Junior, Senior and Veterans level, such initiatives build strong clubs.
Down at Twickenham much has gone on and Roger Hackney has kept us well informed so I will not dwell too long on the area. John Steel had already gone and then we learned that Martyn Thomas would not have his contracts renewed once the new C.E.O. was appointed, then after the poor showing in the World Cup Martin Johnson finally stepped down. So it was all change. Ian Ritchie became the new C.E.O. in February. Stuart Lancaster, with Cumbrian roots, became the temporary coach for the Six Nations Campaign; he impressed with his team building and new ethos, so much so, that it seemed almost inevitable that become the newly appointed England Coach, we all wish him luck in his future career. At county level we became aware of another area of change as the RFU altered the allocation of Community Rugby Coaches, the new system being two per R.D.O. which would have meant a big cut for us. Some effective presentations by our officers led to Cumbria being the only rural area to be granted a third C.R.C. Then a masterstroke by our enterprising R.D.O. Liam Nicholls obtained three years funding from Copland Borough Council for a fourth. The Slaughter and May report on RFU Corporate Governance came out in December, fundamental changes are under consideration but the RFU are taking things carefully before they move forward. I am pleased to say the RFU also came to us this season. Miles Templeman visited us on the very first stage of his consultation exercise on RFU Corporate Governance. Ann Hutchins RFU Safeguarding Manager came to Penrith early in the season to speak to that almost invisible but essential group, Club Safeguarding Managers, about thirty attending this very worthwhile session. Another visitor to the county was the top referee Dave Pearson a Northumberland lad, who led the Federation of North Referees Societies training session at Carlisle in February.
During the season I am sad to report we lost two former Presidents of Cumbria, John Wilman 1971/2 a long serving member of Kirkby Lonsdale and Colin Anderson 1980/81 from the Whitehaven club.
Finally I would like to wish all clubs, especially those who have gained promotion and those who have suffered the setbacks that led to demotion, the best of luck for the coming season.