10:00AM, Sunday 15 November 2020
While the cancellation of this season's league campaign and subsequent national lockdown has been a bitter pill for club's like Windsor RFC to swallow, head coach Jack Pattinson hopes the RFU and Government can agree on clubs playing a revised but meaningful and competitive form of the game in the new year.
Windsor's South West 1 East campaign will not go ahead as planned, even in a truncated form, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, the RFU is keen for the Government to approval an adaptive form of the game to be played in local leagues.
That could see a test series take place in the new year between Windsor and local rivals such as Maidenhead RFC, Bracknell, Newbury and Beaconsfield among others. The adaptive game would be like that currently being trialled in the Women's Premiership where scrummaging and mauling, parts of the game where players come into close contact with each other for a period of time, is banned.
Other elements of the full-contact game, such as tackling, would be allowed. Clubs are now back in stage A of the RFU's return to rugby roadmap after the country was put into a second national lockdown until at least December 2. Under stage A two players can train together socially distanced but cannot share any equipment.
"Yeah, the lockdown has definitely been a set-back," said Pattinson. "But we're still going to look for ways of playing some meaningful fixtures in the new year if and when we're given the all clear.
"If we could play in February, March, April we’ll definitely look to for opportunities to play. Whether that's a test series against local opposition, the likes of Bracknell, Newbury, Beaconsfield and Maidenhead. We'll still find ways of making it meaningful to the lads. It's a shame we're not going to have a league season, but the situation is out of our hands.
"I understand there's going to be some revised laws, similar to what the Women's Premiership are trialling. There will be a lot less scrummaging and mauling or at least that's the plan until we can return to the traditional game.
"I'd definitely take that over not being able to play games at all. I get the argument about what's going to happen to your front row players, because a large part of their game is based around things like the scrum and maul, but if you're offering me that or nothing at all I think we'll just have to accept it and move on."
The revised laws for the game will not be universally popular. Front row forward players won't be able to scrummage or maul for the ball, while the ball is also likely to be in play for much more, taking away the break periods most players rely on to catch a breather. However, while not perfect, Pattinson is keen for those players to embrace the challenge and improve their fitness and skillset if this version of the game is given the green light. He said training over the past few months has been beneficial from a mental well-being point of view but has lacked purpose and intensity due to there being no competitive games or league season to look forward to.
"I think we would have to adapt to what the demands of this game will be," he said. "I think if it's going to be a really quick, free flowing game with lots of ball in play time, it won't necessarily be purely to the detriment of the front row, it might affect other players as well. We'll have to adapt but I think there's a huge opportunity for it. If these games do get given the go ahead it's going to improve players' core skills which is very important.
"The major problem we've had is the lack of competitiveness recently. Before the second lockdown, from July to October, we were training but there was no purpose to the training. It wasn't like we were preparing for a game at the weekend or for the start of the league campaign.
"But, if we can get the go ahead and play five or six games in the new year, under these revised laws, that would be good. They will be competitive games with some meaning to them and it will bring meaning to our training sessions as well. Of course, we'll have to adapt but it's not something that's going to last forever so it's an obstacle we can get over.
"These matches will keep people engaged in the sport, not just at Windsor RFC, but in the game of rugby in general. Supporters will enjoy, people in the community will enjoy watching lots of local derbies and there will be rivalries renewed and played out each weekend. It will create something meaningful. It could be exciting and it's something we're looking forward to and I think there's a huge opportunity with these fixtures. It could be something we do every season."
The RFU has confirmed it's working on a proposal with Government for the return of a revised form of the game in local cluster leagues. Entry will be entirely optional for clubs and the leagues will have no promotion or relegation. The organisation was intending to circulate these proposals and hopes to invite clubs to participate in the leagues this week.
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