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Ashford Rugby Club are playing a waiting game as Covid-19 sanctions it the game hard

Ashford Rugby Club chairman John Norman is maintaining a positive outlook but admits it’s been a frustrating time for the sport.

The club had been enjoying coaching sessions and competitions with adapted rules, even managing to attract a couple of others teams to play a touch tournament just before the second lockdown came into force.

Ashford in action against Sheppey Picture: Paul Amos
Ashford in action against Sheppey Picture: Paul Amos

Adult competitions had already been put on hold before the Rugby Football Union announced that lower-level adult competitive leagues for the 2020/21 season were to be cancelled.

Ashford’s 1st XV were looking forward to the challenge of London South East 2 rugby, following back to back promotions, but everything is now on hold.

Mr Norman said: “The feeling is positive in the club, people are still there, but frustration is the word and there is a lot of uncertainty to when and where things will be allowed to happen.

“Numbers at training (before the lockdown) had been good, which is very encouraging, and all we can do is wait and see now.”

Ashford have upwards of 600 members registered, with teams from under-6s up to the seniors, for men and women, and they were enjoying the return to training.

The social side has obviously been hit, however, having an impact on bar takings. The club had planned events this month to coincide with the Autumn internationals, having successfully held a socially-distanced event to watch the recent Six Nations victory over Italy.

Mr Norman has no fears about the club’s financial status at present, however.

He said: “We were in a good position (financially) at the end of last season, we have used the furlough scheme and we received a government grant in the first lockdown which was very useful.

“Getting people back into the club on a Sunday morning was tricky. Parents have been wary about coming down but the main thing is the kids were coming and they were out on the pitches.

“It looked good, we had done what we could, by the rule book, but the social side in the club had very much gone dead. At the end of the day we are there to play rugby and if they are doing that, that is the main thing at the moment.

“Financially we are fine but we don’t want it to go on too much longer.”

The club don’t at least have the headache of paying players, as they are an amateur outfit run mainly by volunteers. They’ve saved money where they can but Mr Norman admitted they didn’t manage to get through all of the beer, but said that Shepherd Neame had been fantastic.

“It doesn’t want to go on much longer,” he said.

“Things were slowly moving back but now we will get back in December and whether we will be back to where we were two weeks ago or whether we will be pushed further back, we don’t know.”

While competitive leagues have been cancelled, Mr Norman hopes they will be able to compete with fellow east Kent sides in some sort of way, as happened this summer with the local cricket season.

And while an adapted game has meant they have been able to enjoy some kind of action, it’s not for everyone.

He said: “We have had 10-a-side touch rugby, which was good fun, but not quite the same, it is obviously a different game.

“I am a very old front row forward and my game is not running fast around young people, but people seem to enjoy running fast around me!

“When we do get back to some sort of rugby, without scrums and lineouts it is a very different game. Take the front five, the big uglies out of it, and it basically destroys their game, it is not going to be easy for them to stay involved and happy.

“We have to hope any new rules don’t hang around too long and we can get back to normality as soon as we can.

“The sooner we get back to competitive rugby and training twice a week the better.”

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