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Ashford Rugby Club gear up for new season as RFU reveal date and format of new campaign

Ashford Rugby Club are back in training as the RFU reveal league format and start date.

Both themselves and Folkestone were promoted from London 3 South East after the RFU calculated league positions on a best playing record formula.

Back training ahead of a proposed September start date (38957121)
Back training ahead of a proposed September start date (38957121)

The RFU plan, if given approval, is to start the 2020/21 season in London 2 South with two regionalised groups of six, playing each other twice. Ashford would get their league season underway against fellow promoted side Folkestone on September 26.

Games against the likes of Deal & Betteshanger and Gravesend would follow. It’s hoped that they would then be able to play the other six teams, again home and away.

In preparation, the Ashford team have been training on Tuesdays throughout July.

Club chairman John Norman said: “We were sorry not to be able to complete last season’s London 3 South East league programme, but the Rugby Football Union awarded promotion to us and Folkestone on the basis of our form across the season.

“So despite all the uncertainties arising from Covid-19, there is genuine excitement about the coming season and the challenges ahead.

“We have undertaken a rigorous planning process to ensure the safety of players, officials and spectators. Our plans reflect Rugby Football Union’s guidance, and provide a detailed build-up to full contact provided that by that time it is safe to do so. We have started pre-season training this month for both men and women, with safety protocols in place”.

Turn-out for training has been encouragingly high, with over 60 men and women attending the sessions. Training is expected to be expanded from August, including Thursday sessions along with training for the junior section. The minis are due to return in September if good progress is maintained.

Ashford RFC captain Adam Knight leading by example (38957116)
Ashford RFC captain Adam Knight leading by example (38957116)

First XV skipper Adam Knight said: “Our plans for the first part of the season are focused on securing a positive start to the season.

“What we have is a series of derby matches starting with fellow promotees Folkestone on September 26th and then a series of competitive fixtures with clubs such as Thanet Wanderers, Deal and Betteshanger, Gravesend and Crowborough.

“We will need to start well and maintain our form to secure our place in this company.”

Ashford Ladies have started with encouraging numbers attending their training sessions. Coach John Heaver has set the team the challenge to improve fitness levels and make their defence more robust in the coming season.

He has strengthened his coaching team, including input from Amanda Johnson who will continue to focus on strengthening the club’s girls teams at under-13, 15 and 18 levels this season, and provide a pathway into senior rugby for those who wish to continue playing rugby.

The club, meanwhile, have received a NatWest RugbyForce grant that will help fund improvements to the clubhouse. The NatWest programme involves a weekend of improvement work over the summer and draws on support from players, supporters and local businesses.

Folkestone Rugby Club, meanwhile, have paid respects to club stalwart Mike O'Sullivan, who died last week.

Mike had been a coach, player, and club president at the club and current president Steve Cribbens led the tributes.

Mr Cribbens said: "He had a brilliant mind and was a criminal barrister and latterly criminal Crown Court judge.

"Folkestone Rugby Club was his passion and he dedicated many many hours in fighting the government and Eurotunnel to ensure FRFC got an excellent deal on the sale and purchase of our new grounds.

"He again took up the sword when our grounds were compulsory purchased to facilitate the hi-speed rail link.

"We were extremely proud of his negotiated settlements which gave us the wonderful clubhouse and grounds we enjoy today. We will all miss his quick sense of humour and wit and his love of his native Ireland and rugby team.

"On behalf of FRFC I send our sincere condolences and love to his wife Collette and all the family."

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