Hendon target promotion - but Rugby World Cup could be an early distraction

Hendon will play one of their league matches at Saracens' Allianz Park this season. Pic: Paolo Minol

Hendon will play one of their league matches at Saracens' Allianz Park this season. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Hendon president David Gershlick is aiming to secure promotion from Herts/Middlesex Division Two after last season’s agonising disappointment – but he admits the Rugby World Cup could be a distraction that undermines the club’s bid for a fast start.

Hendon came third last term, having the same number of points and wins as second-placed London French but finishing behind their rivals on points difference on the final day and missing out on a place in the next tier.

They go into the new campaign with a very similar squad, and now familiar with the league format, which was redesigned for the 2014/15 term.

The division will again be split into two parts, with all the teams playing each other once and then being divided into two sections, with the top six sides fighting for the top two promotion spots.

There is a new captain, Cian Hynes taking the armband from Ger O’Donoghue. And, as Hendon prepare to kick off away against Harlequins Amateurs on Saturday, Gershlick hopes this could be their year.

“The expectation is to go one better than last year,” he told Ham&High Sport. “The objective for [head coach] John Casalaspro and Cian first is to reach the play-off section, so we’re targeting being in the top six.

“John has a three-year objective to get us promoted to Herts/Middlesex Division One. He nearly did it in year one when we were pipped at the post, and here we are in year two.

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“Every team at our level has its day. It could be that Harlequins have strengthened this year – we’ll find out when we play them on Saturday. I think we’re all pretty much an unknown quantity until the first few games and then suddenly you see what’s emerging.

“I don’t see anybody there being our main contestants except the usual teams that we had close games with last year. But, having said that, we’ve got to see how the season pans out. At this stage I think it’s a level playing field, and in the first couple of weeks you’ll see from the results where the strengths lie.”

Gershlick added: “We’ve got to be on our toes right from the start and it’s all down to who turns up. I have to admit we are a slow club starting off and getting the players back into position.

“They’re coming back from various places. It’s keeping our fingers crossed that the right boys turn up for this coming Saturday. I think the boys are good enough, it’s whether they can commit themselves to getting the club there.

“I don’t think the standard in Herts/Middlesex One is any greater than it is in Division Two, and therefore it would be good to get back to the league I think Hendon should be playing in.”

The players’ commitment could be tested by the Rugby World Cup, which is being held on home soil in England and starts tomorrow night (Friday) – the day before Hendon’s opening fixture.

Gershlick admits that, at amateur level, players will be tempted to watch the international clashes rather than turning out for their club.

“I think that is inevitable, it really is – there’s no way around it unfortunately,” he said. “We’ve got a big screen at the club, we’re going to record all the major internationals and show it recorded immediately after any match where teams conflict.

“I think we’ve got one league game where we are actually committed to playing at the same time as England, but some of the boys might not worry about that as we’ve got a huge Irish contingent.

“Club games normally kick off early so the main games can be watched, and luckily the first game for us at Harlequins is on a Saturday when neither country, Ireland or England, are playing. We’ve got to manage this actually but the World Cup is the big focal point.”

There have been few new faces at Hendon ahead of the kick-off, but Gershlick is keen to welcome more fresh additions.

“We were hoping to recruit one or two people,” he said. “A couple of our first-team boys have dropped down into the twos. Our prop forward Terry Gilbride, who has been a mainstay front-row player for many years, is now second-team captain so there are holes to fill.

“We are still looking for players of all abilities to come and enjoy the craic, which includes playing as well as being hosted at Hendon Rugby Club and enjoying the pub environment at The Bodhran, which is our sponsored pub down at Hendon Central.

“We’ll be training at Saracens’ Allianz Park from October and they have also very kindly offered us the pitch to play one of our Saturday league games on. “Saracens and Hendon work very closely together, so much so that we’re doing a schools event for the next three Thursdays. We’re very keen as a club to embrace the Saracens philosophy and we’re working very closely with their management.”