Following a season clouded by injuries, defeats and then relegation, Wimborne RFC are hoping for sunnier prospects when rugby returns, writes Andrew Clayton.
The Minstermen slipped out from South West One East by the barest of margins, after the Rugby Football Union’s point accumulation formula placed them just 1.53 away from Trowbridge, who remained safe.
With four crucial games left unplayed, the question of ‘what if’ has been rightfully murmured around Leigh Park. Speaking to The Independent, Ollie Bourton, joint first team manager, was philosophical about the outcome.
“I understand why they’ve done it – it was hard for the RFU to make a decision as either way it’s just going to write the whole season off,” said the 24-year-old, who was forced to quit playing in 2018 with a damaged ACL.
“At the same time, from our point of view, we had a few big games – Trowbridge at home, Windsor at home – that we saw as winnable with potential bonus points, which could have possibly helped us stay up. But, you can’t help that now. We definitely thought we had the potential to stay up, but their decision is final.”
Speaking honestly, Bourton, who is in his first year of coaching alongside club stalwart Nick Hawkes, admitted that it had not been the easiest campaign for this Wimborne side.
Firsts captain Declan Foley and vice-captain Steve King were both forced to retire midway through the season with concussions, while selection issues hampered any chance of forming a regular XV.
Bourton added: “Looking back at the first team, from the start of last season, I think there’s only one player who’s still there.
“It was just a network of injuries, so we were asking younger players to step up, almost throwing them into the deep end. You’re not going to be able to adjust to that in a season. Every game, more or less, we had a different line up. At that level, half of it is getting to know the players around you and then you’re on your way. That made it quite hard.
“A lot of our players are self-employed, so they might be working in the evening or Saturdays. As much as you can try and ask, at the end of the day, rugby is a hobby and they have to focus on what’s going to pay their mortgages.”
However, the drop back down to Southern Counties South, where Wimborne won the title in 2017, comes with its benefits, says Bourton.
“Pre-season will start earlier this year and the younger lads are already pushing that, which is quite good to see. They’ll definitely develop their game in that league; it’s a lot less physical, but it will probably come down to more game management.
“It’s a good thing, in our perspective, with the older players retiring and asking the next group to come up. Us moving down might be a good stepping stone to have a rebuild and then another crack at it.
“It’ll get everyone’s confidence up as well. We only won about five games this season. You’re asking the boys to travel three hours on the bus to Banbury, when they know they’re going to lose, it’s tough on morale.
“This season coming, getting a good couple of wins under the belt early on will get everyone enjoying it again.”