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Windsor RFC head coach Pattinson wants the focus to be on fun when restrictions are eased next month

Windsor head coach Jack Pattinson has said he’s keen to use the first few months after lockdown restrictions are eased to ‘re-engage’ with his players and to help them fall back in love with the game again.

It’s been more than 12 months since Windsor last played a competitive game, but with the Government announcing that community team sports can resume from March 29, Pattinson and the players are back on stand-by for a return to training and competitive action.

Clubs haven’t yet received formal guidance from the RFU on how and when they’ll be able to resume activities and, over the past 12 months, they’ve flitted between different stages of the RFU’s return to rugby roadmap.

It is hoped, however, that Windsor’s players will be able to resume training at stage D, enabling them to take part in contact training sessions for a period of four to six weeks before moving into stage E where matches – or an adaptive form of contact matches – can take place.

This would enable clubs to play friendlies will local rivals of a similar level, however, for the time being at least, Pattinson is focused on the players having some fun.

The club’s head coach added that it would be madness to plough straight into pre-season training and maintain that through to the start of the new season, likely to be in September.

“Firstly, it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’ve lost all this time,” he said. “And think, let’s go straight into pre-season and do that until September.

“But that would obviously be madness, wouldn’t it? So, we’re going to start up again on April 1 and treat April and May as a time to get people loving rugby again.

“We want to re-engage with people after quite a lot of disruption, get people back down to the club, throwing a ball around and having some fun. As I say, we just want them to fall back in love with the game.

“We’ve had a lot of time out and a lot of disruption over the last 12 months, so we’re basically going to play within the regulations of the RFU road map. We’ll probably play adaptive games of touch rugby and have a bit of a touch league.”

The clubhouse may have been closed and the training pitches empty for much of the past year, but Windsor’s steering committee has remained active, recruiting 15 new players since the turn of the year alone, and Pattinson feels they would benefit from time to integrate and get to know their teammates. The plan is to throw a big party at the end of June, once social distancing measures have been relaxed entirely, before kicking off pre-season training the following week on June 29.

“We’ve recruited a lot of people since the turn of the year to be honest,” Pattinson added. We’ve had another 15 boys join which is really exciting and we’re focused on group connection, everyone coming back together and throwing a ball around again.

“We will probably take most of June off and then, once social distancing measures go on June 21, we will look to have some sort of an event at the club, where everyone can come down and enjoy each other’s company, without having to keep two metres apart. We’ll have a few drinks together and then look to start pre-season training the following week. I think that will be something like Tuesday, June 29, if my memory serves me correctly. We’d have a two-month pre-season going into September and have a real good go at the league.

“I’ve got a bit of a vision that I think we can pursue, and the boys have bought into that.”

Pattinson is confident the vaccine rollout will have the desired effect of suppressing the virus and, having mitigated against the risks, he’s hopeful it will enable players to return to action without the worry of further disruption or another national lockdown.

He says club members have shown great resilience over the past 12 months and a flexibility to adapt to everything that’s been thrown at them.

“Yeah, of course, I think the vaccine rollout has been fantastic, and it gives you a lot of hope that we won’t go back into lockdown and the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to over the past 12 months,” he said. “Certainly, a lot of what I’m reading is that we will soon have to learn to live with this virus, but of course, we’ve mitigated the risk of people dying from it dramatically.

“I don’t know how you define resilience, probably just the ability to keep going when things have been challenging. It has been tough over the past 12 months, trying to prepare under these regulations with the risk out there, and certain people being uncomfortable. We have to make sure we play it right by the book, so we don’t compromise anyone. As a rugby club we had to adapt over the past 12 months, you get a bit of momentum and then you’re told rugby is over and you’re back into lockdown. That’s tough to pick yourself up from, for the coaches, but also for the boys. But there have been some incredible people working behind the scenes to keep things going and it now feels like it has been worth it. Once we do start again on April 1, we’re only looking one way.

“It feels a little bit emotional to be honest that we could finally get back to doing what we all love.”

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