After pulling out of South West One West at the start of this season, St Ives RFC have set their sights on playing competitive rugby again, writes Andrew Clayton.
The Hakes have enjoyed something of a meteoric rise in recent years, soaring from level eight in the Cornwall/Devon League to a top six finish in South West One West in just four seasons.
However, the bottom suddenly fell out of it all when, one game into the 2019-20 campaign, the club made the contentious decision to withdraw from the league. An exodus of players throughout the summer, and an 89-14 opening defeat at Chew Valley, was enough for the St Ives board to call time on competitive rugby.
Almost nine months later, Hakes chairman Andrew Baragwanath has exclusively revealed to The Independent that his club are considering a return, and they have no qualms about where they must restart their journey.
“We’ve applied formally to Cornwall RFU to rejoin the leagues; which one we go into isn’t our choice as I’m not sure if it will fall under them, Twickenham or the South West leagues,” he explained.
“We assume we’ll go into Cornwall Two and we’re happy with that, although we have heard that some clubs would rather we go into Cornwall One, because we might be too strong for them, but we’re happy wherever we’re put. I wouldn’t disrupt any club by insisting we’re entered into whatever league. If we get promoted, we’ll do it on the pitch.”
The man who has been asked to steer the ship for 2020-21 is former St Ives player Jamie Prisk. The second-rower came through the Hakes’ youth system, but represented Redruth in the National League last season.
Following on from a fantastic campaign, Prisk will now step into his first management role as St Ives’ new head coach.
“I expect him to attract some good local players,” said Baragwanath. “We would like to build up our numbers up sufficiently to get a second team going. It’s about getting local lads coming up the rugby club, enjoying the rugby and a bit of a social life afterward.
“We’ve got a few other boys looking to join us and we’re just looking forward to getting back training when we can.”
For Baragwanath, pulling out of the league was the correct, albeit most difficult decision. He continued: “I didn’t think [continuing] was appropriate for the club or the league, when you’re travelling four or five hours and shipping 80 to 100 points; it’s disheartening for everybody.
“We also felt it was not fair on the league itself if we pulled out halfway through the season, because other clubs would be expecting travel money from the RFU and might be reluctant to give it back later on. We felt it was the honest thing to do.
“Last season, there was no other Cornish clubs in the league and the closest was Devonport Services. It’s a big ask, all that travelling. We then found we couldn’t fulfil the fixture following Chew Valley. We had some past players and young players put their names forward, but there is a player issue safety as I felt some of them should not put themselves in the line of fire, especially when some had retired years ago.”
As well as the obvious negatives from the withdrawal, Baragwanath feels there were just as many positives to come away from it.
Instead of simply wallowing, St Ives went about organising friendlies with local teams, and also ensured they had their annual Boxing Day bash with Hayle RFC – coming out on top 28-21.
“It was difficult, of course, because all league structures was already in place and a lot of clubs don’t have a spare Saturday, and if they do, the players will have other commitments,” the chairman added.
“It was a bit of a shock to some people, especially the old club stalwarts, but actually our spectator base rose, as if people realised, ‘this has actually happened’.
“It brought a lot of people back to St Ives.
“We recruited some new players, guys who felt they might not be able to play in the league we were in but could happily enjoy a game against local sides.
“It also brought back some past players onto the committee, because their expertise could help.
“The likes of Ian Sanders, Shaun Parton, Billy Peters and others have come back and reformed a rugby sub-committee, and we’re always grateful for their input.
“We were playing social games and had a good number enjoying it.
“We had some good local fixtures against other Cornish clubs and we’re now looking forward to next season.”