Back in the 1980’s it was not uncommon for the county’s amateur rugby union clubs to run several teams. Huddersfield RUFC was no exception and at the time ran six, from First XV down to the Extra ‘C’. The latter being something of an institution, a veterans team into which some of the town’s former professional rugby league greats like Ian Van Bellen and Mick Murphy sidled anonymously alongside players dropping down through the other teams to pursue their passion for the sport into their mid-life years.
Today things have changed and clubs field far fewer teams with fewer senior players opting for long careers. Huddersfield currently run just three but this season former first teamers are gearing up to ensure their success.
A Team on tour – Enjoyment on and off the field is key
Richard Baxter captained the First XV in 1998/99 and 2003/04 and last year took over as skipper of the club’s third team. His ‘A’ Team play social but highly competitive rugby and had a very successful season winning 14 of their 20 games in the Yorkshire Western Merit League. Although winning is important the team ethos is based on enjoyment on and off the field. Baxter’s team rounded off their season with a successful tour to Belfast, he says, ‘I think we have the balance between playing seriously and having fun just right.’ Adding, ’New players are always welcome. You don’t have to be particularly good but if you are you will be even more welcome!’ The team are traditionalists and this year they are reverting back to the old all white club kit having secured a new shirt sponsorship deal.
The club’s second team, ‘The Falcons’, had something of a lean time last year. The unexpected departure of both team coach and manager early in the season created problems for captain Darren ‘Irish’ Neilly whose side struggled for numbers at times. This year a couple more vastly experienced former first teamers have stepped into the breach to bolster playing strength and develop cohesion. Lock forward Gavin Rhodes and prop Tony Stringwell have assumed the coaching roles and the plan is to create a strong second string side. Players on the brink of first team rugby, Academy hopefuls and a university contingent, along with ex-firsts like Rhodes and Stringwell, will combine to become what is hoped will be a development side to complement the First XV. They will be competing in the Yorkshire Southern Conference. Neilly himself made several first team appearances last season and says he is looking forward to the season ahead. ‘The last couple of years have been difficult and it’s great to have Gavin and Tony on board. I’m
sure they will help push our young talent on to reach their full potential. Our facilities are second to none and club coaches are experienced and knowledgeable. The Falcons offers ambitious players the opportunity to train and develop their abilities to a high standard.’
Former First XV captain Paul Sharrock is Chairman of Rugby with overall responsibility for all the club’s teams. ‘HRUFC is a community club which aims to provide the opportunity to play rugby for anyone. Keeping all players happy when we have a semi-professional team at one end and the larger community arm at the other however can be challenging. To maintain a National League first team we need a broad base and every team needs to feel supported and valued. Our Falcons, A-Team and Academy are vital to the strength of the club and I feel optimistic that we have the set up in place for a successful season ahead at all levels.’
Richard Sykes Rugby Union Correspondent, Huddersfield Daily Examiner.