Scrum down as the new season gets underway
THE new rugby season kicks off on Saturday for Hampstead, UCS Old Boys and Haringey Rhinos, with Hendon and Belsize Park returning to action a week later. HAMPSTEAD Coach Ali Halsall is aiming to construct a solid cornerstone...
THE new rugby season kicks off on Saturday for Hampstead, UCS Old Boys and Haringey Rhinos, with Hendon and Belsize Park returning to action a week later.
Coach Ali Halsall is aiming to construct a solid cornerstone for his new-look squad, who start their London League Two North-West campaign away to St Albans on Saturday.
Last season Halsall's outfit were the season's surprise package, securing a play-off spot after winning the last seven games of the campaign, only to lose the decider 23-13 to Brentwood.
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But much has changed for Hampstead this season with the loss of a number of first team regulars along with the unavailability of key players for the start of the season.
"We have lost many of the players that featured last season and we have recruited a lot of new blood," said Halsall.
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"We played Enfield in a friendly last Saturday, where we were beaten 23-16, and only had five players that played in last season's final game.
"Chris Darke and Mike McHale have gone and Andy Levett, Dave Mold and Dave Gornal are all away until Christmas time.
"But we have a lot of new players in such as Sean Farrell (fly-half) Richard Lord (centre) Matt McTurk (scrum half) and Victor Boardman (back row).
"We recently reached the semi-final of the pre-season cup which was played at Grasshoppers near Osterley.
"We have a lot of second team blood coming in that will benefit the team but it is very difficult to say where we will finish this season.
"With all of the rebuilding in the club, we are targeting a top half finish and would be disappointed to finish in the bottom half."
UCS OLD BOYS
UCS are intent on continuing their upward surge that saw them bag back-to-back promotions before consolidating their London League Two North-West position last season.
"Having finished 10th and sixth in this division over the last two years, we think we have the experience at this level to push on and challenge for promotion," said UCS's Ben Burkhill. "Realistically I think we are looking at a top four finish."
"We have lost quite a few players from last year including vice captain Rich Vagg (lock) and Heath Radel (flanker), who have returned to Australia.
"Also George Young (winger) and Joey Johnson (hooker and player of the season) have returned to New Zealand.
"But on the upside we have Rich Bower (back row) returning from a ski season and have registered Ross Stirling, the ex Basingstoke first team captain (No.8)."
Casey Mee will probably move to fly half this year, while Dan Stewart (full back) continues as first team captain.
Paul Kelly is the first team coach for UCS, who begin their season at home to London New Zealand, and he will be assisted by Geoff Boxer as director of rugby.
Rhinos warmed-up for the new season in London Three North-West with a tough workout in their final trial match against Finchley.
New coaches Tim Hutchins and Rubert Jonker were keen to lay down a marker ahead of their first competitive match against Old Ashmoleans this Saturday, and took a squad of 36 players to Finchley.
And the Rhinos emerged with a notable win, with shining performances in particular from newcomers Paul O'Malley, James Neary and Stephen Foray, who were all taking their first steps in competitive rugby and all looked capable of holding their own ahead of the new campaign.
Other impressive performers included new centre Rondel Bernard, and the powerful Adrian Gilbertson showed flashes of brilliance, while winger Vusi Mdluli showed a sharp turn of pace that will make him one to watch.
Last season's Herts/Middlesex League Two champions, kick off their season at home to Saracens Amateurs on September 19.
The promotion was the culmination of a three year plan to reclaim League One status.
"We had sunk almost to the lowest level and down to one side," said Micky Harber, Hendon's director of rugby.
"But with a young playing squad coached by a team of experts - led by ex-Hendon player Nick Lovett - we can now look forward to a brighter future."
Deputy president Laurence Lennon led the recruiting of new players and the club is fielding three teams this season.
"Our second XV were awarded the London Borough of Barnet Team of the Year Award," said Lennon.
"The award was for being promoted the previous season and most important in having a squad of 25 players with 14 different nationalities. This underlines the principle of rugby as a sport for all."
Club captain Eric Butler added: "Our recruitment campaign for new players is on track and I look forward to welcoming new players to Hendon."
Belsize Park are confidently looking to the future with a new captain and a host of fresh faces as they prepare for their first game of the Herts/Middlesex Division Two season, against Hackney at Regent's Park on September 19.
Park disappointingly finished at the foot of the table last season but have re-structured their training set-up and with six weeks' full training under their belts have already performed creditably this season.
On Saturday the Regent's Park outfit took on Wasps, Kilburn Cosmos and Irish side Garryowen in the Browne's Cup, a round-robin competition at Gladstone Park.
Park fielded a combination of players from their first and second teams and finished third overall in the pre-season curtain-raiser.
"Our aim this season is to finish in the top three," said new skipper Robert Harrison.
"Our first team has not been this strong before. [Last season] we were always at the bottom of the table and we have to rectify this.
"Due to lack of numbers, the players we often had out last season were effectively a second team, so we ended up with quite a disjointed unit.
"But this season we have in a number of new players and the improved levels of fitness are increasing players' confidence.
"The squad is looking good and are playing well.