RUGBY: New coach, captain and chairman for Old Laurentians

Old Laurentians 1st XV in action last season
Old Laurentians 1st XV in action last season

Optimism high for successful campaign

A busy summer on and off the field has preceded the imminent start of a new season, when Old Laurentians will be competing in Midlands 2 East.

Optimism is high for a successful campaign after last season’s disappointing outcome, when a dismal start could not be recovered by the end and relegation followed, writes Bill Wallis.

Almost without exception, the players who finished last season will be available this time around, with some additions expected to boost squad strength.

A number of changes in the management of the club have occurred during the close season, principally with a change of Chairman, Dan Volkman standing down from the leading role.

He is replaced by Andy Spriggs, a member and player since 1972 who was still turning out for the club’s 3rd XV last season and setting new records for playing longevity.

He is championing the Return to Rugby initiative, introduced by the Rugby Football Union with the objective of attracting lapsed players back into the senior game.

Taking on the mantle of 1st XV skipper is Ben Wiles, a talented player right across the back line who played a prominent part in the club’s revival in the latter part of last season.

Once more skippering the 2nd XV is Nick Martin, who will be leading the side in the highly competitive Warwickshire 1 league; and this year the 3rd XV will be in the hands of a captaincy duo, the enthusiastic and highly capable pairing of Adie Marsh and Barry Hipwell.

They will co-operate closely with Veterans XV captain Ash McEwan in promoting the Return to Rugby initiative and will welcome with open arms any former players who are thinking of dipping their toes back into the water again!

After more than 15 years as a very successful and highly respected coach, Stuart Birch is stepping down from the role of Head Coach. Before taking up coaching duties, Birch was an outstanding player for the club and its most successful captain ever in terms of playing standards and results when he skippered the 1st XV for five years in the ‘90s.

Maintaining the club’s practice of appointing from within, he is succeeded by another former player with an equally impressive playing record as Iain Wallis takes over the reins.

Before retiring as a player in 2015, Wallis had been an ever present in the club’s 1st XV for 18 years with close on 400 appearances to his name and an impressive try tally.

He will be supported by a very useful recruit in Andy Milner, who brings with him a wealth of coaching experience. Also in the coaching team is David Longrigg, another former player of some standing; and other coaches will be drafted in as needs dictate.

Mick Warwick continues as Chairman of Playing; and completing the 1st XV coaching and management team is Rob Bean, 1st XV Manager

The future of the club is represented by OL’s ever growing Mini & Junior section, now with over 350 members and a large and enthusiastic coaching and management team.

Starting with five-year-old boys and girls, the most senior age group this season is under 15, one of the best squads in the county at under 14 level last term. With an embryo Colts section in development, and a coaching team in position, a smooth transition from junior to senior rugby for young players is a key objective.

Add to this a flourishing Ladies section, currently playing touch rugby and planning a transition to the contact game, and it is clear that the club is in the rudest of health in all areas.

The season proper gets under way on September 10 with the first league game when the first XV will travel to Olney, followed by the first home game on the 17th, when Oundle will be the visitors to Fenley Field.

Before that, pre-season training games are inked in for Saturday, August 20, when the squad will travel to Barkers Butts; followed by a midweek evening match at Old Northamptonians on Thursday, August 25.

The first competitive game is likely to be on Saturday, August 27 in the first round of the Warwickshire Shield, for which the draw was yet to be made at the time of writing.

Over and above the playing side of the club, there are other exciting and ambitious development plans in the pipeline with more announcements expected over the course of the season. A good time to be an Old Laurentian!