End of season report

For the season ending May 2017

Dr Tim Miller
Honorary Secretary

With the arrival of Summer, now is the time to reflect on the past season, the first of Tom Brownsell’s Presidency. As most of you know, this is my first year as Secretary and I would like to record my grateful thanks to my predecessor, Steve Rac, for his invaluable advice and at times, considerable patience in helping me settle in! I am grateful too to fellow County Officers, all members of the Management and General Committees and the numerous Standing and Sub-Committees that I have worked with as well as Rachel Barry and Nicky Fielder in the County Office. Thank you one and all for your support.

Our clubs lie at the heart of everything we do in the Middlesex County and the Management Committee and many others are focused on the support we can provide, financial and non financial, to underpin the progress of our clubs. I therefore begin the review by looking at the progress of our member clubs.

Competitions

The 2016/17 season proved a successful one for Middlesex Clubs. Warmest congratulations to Bank of England, Hackney, London Cornish, Old Haberdashers, Old Streetonians plus the Herts/Middlesex 2 Shield to Mill Hill for securing their league titles. Consequent to a club reallocation, a number of clubs facing relegation were reprieved but sadly, Staines were relegated. I am delighted that Hillingdon Abbots are returning to the league programme for next season where they will be joined by Finsbury Park for the first time.

The merit tables continue to have their own challenges especially with regards to walkovers, sadly, all too common in the South East region. Nevertheless, they remain hugely important, providing more rugby for clubs and players than our other leagues. Interesting, four of the six winners were 1st XVs of which we now have fourteen playing across the six merit tables. The season culminated in two very successful finals days, very well hosted at Chiswick and Staines.

It is very pleasing to report the successful launch of a Veteran’s Merit Table and Cup competition. This has resulted in 16 clubs playing competitive rugby in the County for the first time. We hope that we can build on this success in the coming season and encourage more clubs to enter the two competitions. The County now runs fifteen adult male Cup competitions with finals this season held at six different Middlesex clubs. Taking all our leagues, cups and merit table winners this season, 20 different Middlesex Clubs can look back on a very successful season.

I would also like to congratulate Harlequins, Saracens and Wasps Women on their successful applications to join the RFU Women’s Premiership and wish them well for the start of the new season.

Finally, On behalf of the County can I thank Andy Smart and members of the Competitions Sub-Committee for their hard work over a busy season, in particular, to Nick Alway and Lucien Roberts who are stepping down after many years of excellent service as league secretaries for London 2NW and H/M2 respectively. I am sure that I speak for all their clubs that their common sense, support and experience will be sorely missed.

Moving on to the Middlesex County Rugby Standing Committees, I have summarised below their work throughout the season. The full reports from each of the committees, which contain far more information than I have room for in this report, can be obtained from the County Office should you wish to see them.

Playing & Coaching

Team Middlesex started the 2016-17 season with a number of objectives which lie at the heart of the Middlesex Strategic Plan. As in past season, Bob Lawless has produced an excellent and comprehensive report outlining the progress of all age groups including: the Developing Player Programme, Team Middlesex at all age grades including U13s, U14s and U15s, Team Middlesex U14s, U15s, U16s, U17s, U18s and U20s, the Senior Playing Development Programme and Senior Teams performances and all Women and Girls rugby activity. The full report also outlines the Middlesex Coaching activity and achievements, including the Rugby Coaching Drills Programme. The report is very detailed and is well worth reading by all who have an interest in the County’s extensive playing and coaching activities. On behalf of the County, I would like to thank our coaches and managers of Team Middlesex, sports therapists, committee members and to those clubs who provided their facilities for training or matches, without their support and hard work, this programme would not have been possible. As many of your know, Bob Lawless, Chairman & Director of Rugby, is stepping down this season, to concentrate on his duties as Deputy President. Over nearly thirty years, he has provided leadership and energy to player and coach development and on behalf of the County can I thank him for his outstanding, if not unique, contribution and wish his successor, Stephen Atkinson every success next season.

Club Sevens

Since its inception in 2000, the annual Middlesex Club 7s continues to react to the changing requirements of our traditional end of season sevens tournament, open to all in Middlesex Clubs and beyond. This year was no exception, with more resources being devoted to enlarging the competition now renamed as “The Middlesex 7s Festival”.  National advertising was used for the first time and substantial social media activity helped increase the total number of sides in the Festival. The principal focus of the Festival continues to be for community clubs to compete for the Derek Mann Cup, this year won by Millfield Old Boys with further tiers for Plate, Bowl, Vase and Jug Trophies. Women’s and Student Teams have for many years been encouraged to compete in our 7s event and we were delighted with the increasing number of emerging women’s teams that entered this year. Middlesex was again selected as a qualifying event for men and women to enter the knock out rounds of the RFU National Series 24/7s. Both qualifiers could be either Club or Open Teams. This year’s winners were Lomaiviti, a Fijiian/British Army Team and Team Accenture Ladies. Two new competitions were also introduced: opportunities for merit table social sevens for more junior sides; together with the introduction of O2 touch rugby. It is hoped that a wider offering of activities at the Festival will increase participation and also draw larger, ideally family based, supporters. I would like to thank David Gershlick and his 7s Festival Committee for all their volunteer support and hard work both on the day and in the months of preparation beforehand.

Community Rugby

Community Rugby continues meet with our clubs to better understand their needs. This gives the host club the opportunity to explore their specific issues and best practice with the committee able to share around the Community game. One concern voiced by some clubs was the Age Grade Rugby structure introduced in September 2016. Despite a few teething problems early in the season, the 35 clubs who run age grade rugby have adopted the new guidelines and continue to provide feedback to assist in being able to develop the game across the County. Given women and girls rugby is a strategic priority for the RFU, it is pleasing to report that Girls’ rugby continues to grow across the County with 13 new girls teams established in Middlesex. The St George’s Day festival saw the biggest growth this year across the three age groups (U13, U15 and U18) with a total of 30 clubs, 40 teams and over 600 girls participate over the two-day festival weekend. This season also saw the largest number of Middlesex clubs apply for NatWest RugbyForce funding. 21 clubs participated in the June weekend, with 10 clubs being offered RFU funding and workshops, 2 clubs receiving crowdfunding support and Middlesex funding a further 10 clubs. Finally, significant progress has been made in recognising our hard working volunteers with additional impetus given by the RFU Mitsubishi Volunteer Awards and very successful evening was held earlier in the month. I would like to thank Louise Latter and her team their hard work and commitment.

Group Officers

All four Groups have met regularly during the season with guest speakers appearing at some of the meetings on a subject of interest to clubs. The RFU area RDO, one of Middlesex’s RFU Council reps, and a member of the LSRFUR can also be seen quite regularly at the meetings which is an additional benefit for our club reps who may have questions to raise to them. Attendance at the meetings has improved steadily since 2014 with over 210 club representatives attending 16 meetings during the season. The Group meetings are an excellent opportunity to share best practice, hear about the Management Committee’s work and in turn, give their feedback to the County’s management. It is no co-incidence that these improvements have occurred under the leadership of Michael Searls who has been Chairman of the Groups since 2008 (but has been with the County a great deal longer). He has stepped down at the end of the season and I would like to record the County’s special appreciation for his contribution in various guises over many years.

Finance

The Finance Committee has worked diligently in looking after the County’s finances and performance against budget. The committee also works with clubs in collating annual accounts, provides assistance where required to clubs experiencing financial challenges and also oversees the investment portfolio, income from which is used to fund a significant part of the rugby delivery activities within Middlesex. In addition, assessing the impact of the RFU financed development programme (PFR) has been conducted for the first time, a process which the County will continue to refine in the coming seasons to ensure that our members are being supported in the most ‘value add’ and productive manner. The County is very appreciative of the hard work which the committee undertakes to ensure the County has robust financial process and management.

Governance

Discipline panels have dealt with 40 cases this season. This is slightly higher than the previous three seasons, although it is still much lower than comparable CBs. The number of match official abuse cases is a concern but abuse cases numbers are slightly lower than before. There has been a marked improvement over the last few seasons in the way clubs manage discipline but those unfamiliar with the process are always welcome to contact our discipline team for advice. However, it is disappointing to find a number of incidents of poor behaviour demonstrated by coaches and parents involved with age grade rugby. The County will continue to take robust action when required and potential sanctions may have consequences on the club as a whole. Clubs need to reduce the incidences of poor conduct through active prevention measures, reinforce the core values of our game, with appropriate management of their members. In light of national concerns around safeguarding, we widened the consent process for age grade tours. Overall, I am pleased to say that the standard of tour applications and risk assessments received has been high. On behalf of the County, I would like to our colleagues in the LSRFUR for their constant support for rugby in Middlesex. I would also like to thank members of the discipline panel, in particular, Nigel Orton who steps down as a consequence of his election to the RFU Council. In addition, the County’s thanks and appreciation go to Discipline Secretary, Mick Collins and Safeguarding Manager, Derek Renton. Both have indicated that next season will be their last in their current roles. I would like to thank Gavin Hindley and his committee for their hard work in managing what can be difficult and sensitive issues.

Marketing

The committee has focused a considerable amount of time and resources in developing the County website and, as our most prominent form of communication, merits investment. This work will continue in the coming season to improve access, upgrade email facilities and security. In parallel, social media activity has been streamlined to a single public Middlesex Facebook page and one Middlesex Twitter account rather than multiple pages, allowing wider appeal and more traction. An Instagram account has also been introduced which, according to the RFU, is their fastest growing social media platform. These changes will allow the County greater access to followers, thus presenting more opportunities to market the County’s activities.

The Management Committee agreed that the publication of an annual diary should end this season, which many regarded as too expensive, outmoded and underused. Instead, a new handbook will be produced which will contain general information about the County, as well as details of various initiatives such as Friends of Middlesex Rugby and sponsorship information. It will also contain a club fixture list and league table. Personal information will be contained in a protected area on the website.

The launch of Friends of Middlesex Rugby, devised to replace the County Patrons scheme, was forecast to attract 30 members in the season. It is very pleasing to report that over 60 Friends have joined the scheme with detailed plans to promote Friends next season. Benefits of membership include: discounted County haberdashery; a unique alliance with Middlesex County Cricket Club including reduced membership rates; and access to various County events.

The work involved in producing Middlesex Matters and programmes for county matches and cup finals, support provided to other areas of the county through email newsletters and online response mechanisms to promote such activities as volunteer awards evenings goes on largely unseen and on behalf of the County, I would like to thank Lonsdale Leggett-Flynn and her committee for their hard work and commitment and, in particular, thank Stephen Leach, Steve Jones and Steve Maltby who are stepping down from the committee this season for their contribution.

On behalf of the County, I would also like to thank Chris Cuthbertson and Rob Udwin for their tireless work on behalf of the County and the Game in general. We are fortunate to have two highly experienced Council members; the former now RFU Board Chair of Governance and the latter, recently re-elected to the Board of Rugby Europe and as a Vice President.

As my report makes clear, the County has an excellent group of dedicated and hard-working volunteers but we are always looking for more and, it goes without saying, if you are reading this and you think you might like to become a County volunteer, please do not hesitate in making contact with me (tim.miller@middlesexrugby.com) or the County Office and we will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Our relationship with the RFU Professional Staff attached to Middlesex Rugby continues to thrive and I would like to thank Gavin Williams and the whole team for all of their hard work and help throughout the season including all of the various development programmes that have been delivered to our clubs and the invaluable assistance in the production of the County PFR. I have no doubt that the successful collaboration and partnership will continue in the new season.

Sadly, as part of this report, it is always my duty to mention the passing of some of our colleagues from Middlesex County, as advised to the County Office.

  • Richard Bull Old Actonians RFC
  • HerveFoucault – London French RFC
  • Brian Gabb Harrow RFC & LSRFUR
  • Frank Harding – Epping Upper Clapton RFC
  • Keith King – Chiswick RFC & Middlesex
  • Ivor Montlake – Wasps FC
  • John Rigby – Old Gaytonians RFC & Middlesex

May they rest in peace.

Finally, I would also like to thank sincerely Nicky Fielder and Rachel Barry for their hard work in the County office, much of which goes unseen but is invaluable to the County. They have been particularly helpful to me in my first year as Honorary Secretary. Can I also thank Simon Hardcastle (Assistant County Secretary) and Inigo Churchill (Minutes Secretary), my fellow County Officers, all members of the General and Management Committees and its Sub Committees and, of course to, the army of volunteers within the County and at our member clubs, without whom we quite simply would not have a game.

Dr Tim Miller
Honorary Secretary