A step back is sometimes required to go forward, says Hornets RFC director of rugby Ian Humphris, as his club prepare for their return to level five, writes Andrew Clayton.
Hornets, based in Weston-super-Mare, were declared champions of South West One West earlier this month with four games left to play of the campaign.
The Rugby Football Union’s points calculation saw them top the table with more than five points over second place Thornbury.
A late charge in the new year culminated in a six-game winning streak, which included victories over Chew Valley and Devonport Services to hold the top spot.
The overall result marks a complete turnaround from last season, when Hornets ended up tenth after their relegation from South West Premier in 2018, the league where they will ply their trade once again.
For director of rugby Humphris, not being able to end the season under regular circumstances was a blow, but the foundations for a campaign like this one have been in place since the very beginning.
“It’s fantastic. Obviously the season didn’t end as we hoped but, in these times, it is what it is,” he told The Independent.
“It’s unfortunate, and we would have rather played the remaining four games, as we were seven points clear and I think we would have won those. But, we’ve got promotion and we’re all excited about that.
“It was starting to go right toward the end of last season, when we got a few things in place and changed our coaching structure. It was a combination of a few things that got the whole club pointing in the right direction.
“In pre-season, we didn’t just have the regular 25 or 30 players turning up, we had 60 or 70 training week in, week out, in the middle of summer, so we knew we were going to have a good season. You just feel it.
“We’ve had a lot of guys who have worked hard for a long time. The guys all played for each other; they’ve got such a good team spirit, they enjoy each other’s company and it makes for a good mix.
“They all want to win and they would die for each other on the pitch. When you’ve got someone beside you who’s putting a massive effort in, it spurs you on to do the same, and I think the results stand for themselves.”
Despite their progressive climb through the regional rankings, one which saw them toiling in Western Counties North seven years ago, Humphris feels that his club have now found their place. Next season will see Hornets compete with the likes of local rivals Weston-super-Mare, former National League side Bournemouth and regional regulars such as Ivybridge and Brixham.
Humphris added: “Level five is where we think we’re comfortable, we enjoy the rugby against good sides and we think we’re ready for it. It’s the minimum, really, and we think we deserve to be there at least.
“You’re playing quality town sides and it’s exciting that our boys can play them. It wasn’t a straight line rise. We’ve been lucky to have a few colts sides and keep hold of those players, who play with the same ethos. A lot of our lads are clubmen who have come up through the ranks.
“They like to see the club do well and they’ll do anything for it. It’s a lot of hard work, and yes we had a bit of a blip two seasons ago, but sometimes you need to take a backward step to go forward again.
“We’ve regrouped and we’ve come back stronger.”
Earlier this month, the club was rocked after learning that former president Dave Chapman had died following complications with Covid-19. Having been one of the Hornets’ founding members, the 83-year-old also established their patrons’ society and has left an indelible mark on the club’s history.
The future remains uncertain, all the while, as lockdown keeps play off the pitch, but the Hornets are confident they are well-prepared for when sport returns. Head coach Jon Richardson has agreed to extend his time at the club, while firsts captain Joe Gadd will move into a coaching role after sustaining an injury against Crediton in February.
“We’ve got the basics and it’s working really well at the moment,” added Humphris. “Jon is heading that up and doing a fantastic job.
“The next few months are going to be massively hard, not just for rugby clubs but all businesses alike. We’ll just have wait and see when we come out the other side.
“We feel like we’re in a strong position now, so as long as we can maintain that through this difficult period, there’s no reason why we cannot come out the other side of it.
“We’ve got future plans to build and extend and redevelop the ground, so we’re not standing still, we’re looking to build on the field and off it.
“If the RFU say we start again next week, we’ll be good to go.”
PICTURE: JAMES WAIN PHOTOGRAPHY