End of season report
For the season ending May 2019
Dr Tim Miller
With the arrival of Summer, now is the time to reflect on the past season, the first of Bob Lawless’ Presidency. As most of you know, this is my third year as Secretary and I am very grateful to fellow County Officers, all members of the Management Committee and the numerous Standing and Sub-Committees that I have worked with as well as Rachel Barry and Nicky Fielder in the County Office. Their work, much of it unseen, is invaluable to the County. The County also relies on an army of excellent volunteers both within the County and at our member clubs, without whom we quite simply would not have a game. Finally, 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 Member and Chair of Governance and the latter, on the Board of Rugby Europe and as a Vice President. 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 report by looking at the progress of our member clubs.
I am delighted to congratulate our four Champion Clubs Belsize Park (L2NW), London Welsh (L3NW), Epping Upper Clapton (LNE3) and London Scottish Lions (H/M2), together with two clubs promoted as runners up, Finsbury Park (H/M1) and Mill Hill (H/M2). With the promotion of Belsize Park, the County now has six clubs playing level 6 rugby the most that I can think of for many seasons.
During April, the County held 16 Adult Male Cup Competitions with the finals superbly hosted by six of our clubs, Chiswick, Harrow, Hendon, London Welsh, Ruislip and Wasps while another seven were hosted successfully by Enfield Ignatians in the HMMTs. Some of the notable winners were:
Cup Final – Chiswick
Bowl – London Welsh
Federation Vase – Hendon
Vets Cup – Chiswick Silverbacks
Vet MTs – Thamesians Vets
NW Floodlit Cup – Ruislip
In all, nineteen of our clubs achieved success from their efforts across the season, winning leagues, MTs or Cups or from gaining promotion in the leagues or MT play-offs. Belsize Park were probably the County’s most successful club winning promotion for their 1stXV into London South for the first time, their 2ndXV winning the Premier MMT whilst their 4thXV won promotion in the MT play-offs. I must also congratulate Saracens both men and women for an outstanding season. So the season that began badly for the County with the loss of London Nigerians has ended with plenty of success for our clubs. Congratulations to them, their coaches and players. Whilst their success perhaps masks the problems facing the adult male 15 a side game throughout the County and indeed the country, the fact is that we continue to provide competitive rugby every week for our clubs, their teams and the many hundreds of players and for that, we can be rightly proud. I must thank my committee for all their hard work running the leagues, cups and MTs across the County. None of this would happen without their commitment. I am delighted that all remain in place to continue for next season. Finally, with the introduction of the Electronic Match Cards at levels nine and ten Competitions will be providing two training inputs across the County in late August, early September with a third in Hertfordshire for those clubs who will be using the system for the first time.
Playing & Coaching
Our objective this season was to increase player numbers engaging with the County programme and provide a variety of development opportunities for aspiring and elite athletes in an environment sympathetic to their chronological, biological and sporting age. It was also my aim to recruit more L3 coaches to work with Middlesex squads. The number of coaches actively involved coaching representative sides has risen to 40. This season, Middlesex has offered playing opportunities for both male and female players at U15’s, U16’s, U17’s, U18’s, U20’s and Senior Men & Women & Senior Men & Women’s 7’s squads. I took the decision in August 2018 to base all Middlesex representative sides at Grasshoppers RFC new facility, offering both coaches and players the opportunity to train and play in an aspirational environment. Over the last 24 months I have spent a considerable amount of time engaging with schools, clubs, coaches and the RFU professional delivery team within the County to drive playing numbers up in all age groups the results of which have been very encouraging.
U15’s Boys A and B squads. 154 players at trial with 50 players retained. This is the first season for a number of years that Middlesex has run an A and B squad. Approximately 50% of the training squad are also involved with London Irish DPP. The A squad won all of their inter-county fixtures.
U16’s Boys A and B squads. Players at trial 120 with 68 players retained. The squad had a challenging season registering loses against Sussex and Surrey with only one win against Berkshire. 98% of the playing squad are registered with Middlesex clubs.
U17’s Boys. 130 players at trial with 48 players retained. Middlesex only runs one side at U17’s. However, moving forward I anticipate running a development squad next season. The squad won all of their inter-county fixtures.
U18’s Boys. 100 players at trial with 38 players retained. The squad participated in 3 very competitive graded fixtures losing to Herts 24-15 and Hampshire 24-22 but recording a win against Surrey 36-10. Elliott McPhun, scrumhalf, Saracens Amateurs & Oakland’s College; Labeat Dushi, 2nd Row, University College School; Ossama Aslam, hooker, Twyford High School & Wasps FC all progressed to the SE Divisional set up.
U20’s Men. 40 players at trial with 25 players retained. This is a very challenging age group to recruit which has not been helped by successive University RDO’s offering little support for the County programme. This is immensely disappointing given the potential resource the London universities offer for player recruitment. The majority of player recruitment from London universities has been generated via my own contacts coaching UCL. Tom Petty (Hooker) from UCL was selected to play for England Counties.
Senior Men (Mark Jackson – Head Coach) – The Senior Middlesex Men’s Squad made its return to the Bill Beaumont Championship this season in Division III of the competition drawn in the same group alongside Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Dorset and Wilts. Preparation began before Christmas and continued throughout the New Year visiting clubs across the County outlining the approach of the new coaching and management which was to be as to be as inclusive as possible and give every player the opportunity of representing the County. With over 50 players seen across the training evenings and 35 players capped from 15 different Middlesex clubs, a solid foundation has been laid to continue the side’s progress next season.
Middlesex U15’s and U18’s Girls. U15’s, 50 at trial. U18’s 46 at trial. All players were retained and training sessions were used as extended player development sessions. The reorganised triangular tournaments have had limited success with many players and coaches within the Middlesex, Hertfordshire & Essex cluster group expressing their concerns regarding the benefits of playing 15’s – 7’s and XRugby within a day tournament. At a recent Player Pathway Office meeting at Cheshunt RFC, the cluster group was advised the RFU want all CB’s to run an extra 20 hours of player development & coach education for those involved within the girl’s game. CB’s are to finance this initiative which falls outside of the age grade calendar requirements.
Senior Women. 124 players at trial with 46 players retained. The general standard and numbers at trial have improved over the last two seasons but even so, the County is still struggling to field a competitive side in the Gill Burns Cup. The women lost to Essex 45-10, Buckinghamshire 44-5 and Hampshire 24-10. Hitherto under-resourced, the women and girls squads were held in very low esteem by the major women’s clubs in the area. I am pleased to report that there is an improved level of engagement with those clubs.
Senior Men’s and Women’s 7’s squads. The squad have competed in 3 tournaments to date, Hendon, Middlesex 7’s and the Summer Social at Richmond. The men have recorded success in all tournaments. They were finalist at Hendon, Plate winners at the Middlesex 7’s and Cup winners in the social competition at the Summer Social 7’s. I believe it’s important to offer a competitive opportunity for players in Middlesex wishing to play 7’s and a fully funded County programme would be an immense step in the right direction to recruit and retain players.
Whilst the increase in player numbers is very encouraging and the potential for growing the game within schools, clubs and universities across the County shows real progress, the reality is very challenging given the recent RFU budget cuts to CB’s. If Middlesex has the ambition to compete rather than just participate within CB competitions funding toward the representative programme will need to be increased..
The Middlesex 7s Festival on Saturday 4th May recorded some new names on the 11 Trophies won on the day. The Secure Trading Open Sevens Series was won by the Jamaican UK Crocs which was essentially the National Jamaican team who gained qualification to the RFU National Finals at Nottingham RFC on June 29th 2019. Teams from all levels played in the 11 different competitions with the SW7s Team winning the Derek Mann Trophy and Team Middlesex winning the Plate Competition, especially with the Middlesex County Team playing on the same day in the County Championship. Congratulations must go to the Women who turned out with a record 10 Teams at the Festival in keeping with the growth in Women’s Rugby. The most junior level on the day, the Social/Merit 7s Jug Competition, was won by Serge Betsen Rugby with the great man himself not only playing but collecting the their Jug Trophy!
The 50 odd teams on the day all played their part for another successful Middlesex 7s Festival with an additional 10 teams competing in the ever popular mixed Touch Rugby Tournament. The only downside for the Festival was the dreadful weather that kept many spectators at home. That said, forward sales of tickets were the best yet for our amateur Tournament. Plans are already in place when Middlesex Rugby will be celebrating their 21st Festival on Saturday May 2nd 2020 at Richmond. The RFU have already guaranteed their support of the flag flying Middlesex 7s and we trust we will once again look forward to the support of both Middlesex and other County Clubs together with the new “invitation/combination” teams that are becoming ever more popular amongst rugby players everywhere.
Community Rugby continues to travel around the County to visit our clubs and hear how they are getting on throughout the season. To date, we have visited 5 Clubs. This gives the host club the opportunity to share their specific issues and best practice which the Rugby Development Committee can share around the Community game. We continue to look for new volunteers to join the Committee in order to deliver on our annual objectives. I wish to record my thanks to the committee volunteers for the hard work they put in and especially thank Committee Secretary Ian Webster, who stands down at the end of the season.
Mini and Junior – Middlesex Rugby currently has 35 clubs offering mini and junior rugby. The County ran successful Mini festivals in the six age groups (U7 – U11) with over 3,500 players enjoying their festival rugby, with each age group hosted by a different club. Our U12’s structure saw four weekends of triangular tournaments being played.
Women and Girls – The St George’s Day festival saw the biggest festival to date across the four age groups (U10/U11, U13, U15 and U18) with over 56 teams and over 700 girls participating over the two-day festival weekend. This year was the first year that we introduced the U10/U11 age group and will look to develop this further for next season’s event. Women and girls rugby continues to be a growth area and we are committed to increase and strengthen the playing opportunity at our clubs, universities, colleges and schools.
Leadership Academy Mentor Programme – As we look ahead to running another Leadership Academy in 2019-2020, this season we introduced a ‘Developing People Course’ which focussed on developing club volunteers as mentors, to support their clubs and individuals within the County. We look forward to seeing the 8 individuals as part of the Leadership Academy next season.
Facilities – Middlesex continued to support the NatWest RugbyForce weekend. 18 clubs participated in the June weekend, with 16 clubs being offered RFU funding and workshops with the support of the County.
Volunteers – With the season drawing to a close, our attention turned to recognising the hard work our club volunteers have given this season. We again teamed up with the RFU Mitsubishi Volunteer Awards, to provide our biggest ever volunteer recognition event. Saying ‘thank you’ to our volunteers can easily be forgotten so I urge you to continue to nominate your volunteers, young and old, and your clubs’ achievements for the Middlesex Rugby Volunteer Awards. We had a record number of nominations with 133 individual nominees from over 30 clubs. Over 200 volunteers across the game came to the Twickenham stadium to the celebration event..
Across the season, we continued with our core business hosting seventeen meetings across the county at sixteen different venues, which in itself speaks volumes for our Groups and the clubs that support them. I would like to take this opportunity first of all to thank our President for making the considerable effort to attend each of those meetings and also to the members of the Management Committee who honoured their commitment as part of the Constitutional Review to ensure that they were well represented at all of the meetings. I speak for both the Group Officers and also the clubs when I say that their efforts were noted and much appreciated and whilst no one will claim that everything is perfect, there is plenty of goodwill around to make it work. On top of our normal business, there have been a number of All Group meetings across the season which have proved a success and it is something that we will look to develop and expand as we go forward. Having our own budget is instrumental in this. It has given us the flexibility to ensure that we can be far more proactive dealing with issues facing the clubs rather than waiting for the next round of group meetings. Provided the topics are relevant, the clubs have shown that they will support these All Group meetings, even at short notice. The Clubs without Clubhouses, Young Leaders, Women and Girls events and the two GMS training inputs were supported by any number of people from the clubs who you wouldn’t see at normal Group Meetings and showed that provided we get the topic correct, the clubs will support the meetings. Thanks also to the professional staff and Ronnie Barry in particular for their tremendous support.
After many years of service to the North Group, Colin Seabrook steps down as secretary. We thank him for all his work and wish him all the best in the future. He is replaced by Sean Burke, the current President of Finsbury Park RFC. I am delighted that the rest of the Group Officers remain in place for next season and I thank them all and Simon Hardcastle, the secretary to the Group Officers Committee, for all their hard work and support. Finally, I would like to acknowledge and thank Rachel Barry in the County Office. Her help has been invaluable in supporting our work.
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. The County has continued to refine its budget allocation process to ensure that our members are being supported in the most ‘value added’ 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. I will brief Members on the last formal Accounts for year ending June 2018 at the meeting together with a summary of where spend for 2018/19 has ended up. Finally, can I wish my successor, Charles Portsmouth, every success as he takes up this role, together with my gratitude to Nicky Fielder for the sterling work she does for the County.
This report focuses largely on discipline matters. Safeguarding oversight was adeptly managed by Neil Horchover again and there are no significant issues to report. In terms of discipline, we were fortunate to have John Orr to take over as Discipline Secretary in November and John was able to take control and fill the void that had been abruptly created. We will finish with approximately 40 discipline cases this season. It is disappointing to note that there have been 7 cases involving match official disrespect and abuse. This is likely to invoke further deterrent sanctions next season. As well as on field foul play cases, panels have considered cases involving an underage player, falsifying match cards and abuse from spectators. Clubs are reminded that discipline and respect are key values of the game and whilst many clubs managed discipline very well, a few others have some work to do. It is anticipated that next season, the RFU will be rolling out some Constituent Body wide training for club discipline secretaries and all clubs will be encouraged to take part in this. This will include new CB Discipline and Safeguarding policies which will be introduced at the start of next season.
I have been involved with Middlesex since 1990. I have held various roles in coaching and managing positions with the youth and senior sides and for 8 years was on the Rugby Development Partnership, which was a link between our clubs and schools. I have also been involved in coaching development which now includes referee development.
I am currently Chair of the London Irish Regional Playing Pathway Group, which overlooks the playing pathway of the Developing Player Programme (DPP) for Middlesex and our DPP partners Hampshire and Berkshire. I have been invited by the RFU to sit on a task group which is looking into the pathway for the U15s and U16s. I regularly visit our 3 DPP centres which is responsible for the development of Middlesex players from U13s – U16s of which we have 260 in the programme.
At this point, I would like to recognise a truly remarkable journey of one of our junior players. Luke Green was nominated by Grey Court School and made his debut 5 years ago for the County’s U14 team and subsequently progressed through the U15, U16 and U17 teams Luke was also selected to enter the Developing Player Pathway at U14 – U16 levels and joined the London Irish Academy. This past season, Luke played 6 games for the full England U18s and has just signed a full contract with London Irish. A fantastic achievement!
Top of my agenda this season was a commitment to visit as many of our member clubs as possible. To date, I have visited over half of our member clubs and, in addition, I have met many of our group representatives at the various group meetings. My first contact with Club officials was last July with a letter looking for support to re-enter the Senior County Championship. This was followed up by a number of visits to introduce our new senior head coach to the various clubs Coaching teams. The level of support was amazing which resulted in 3 good performances in our first season, a highly commendable first season back in the Championship.
Other official visits have included, the Schools Finals at Allianz Park, our mini / youth festivals run at various clubs. Attendance at representative games which have seen an increase in numbers in both the female and male participants. In addition to visiting our various member club games on a Saturday, I have attended numerous vets’ games on Friday evenings and have viewed a number of the women Tyrrell’s games. In April, I visited the St Georges day girl’s festival. This festival in its 10th year has grown from strength to strength, with 4 age groups of girls competing in a festival over 2 days, allowing the participation of over 400 young girls.
I have represented Middlesex in the following external events, London Society of Referees Annual Dinner, Hertfordshire Clubs Dinner, Surrey Awards evening and the London Irish Awards evening. I also attended a Church service commemorating Middlesex day on the 16th May and on all occasions wear the Middlesex tie with pride. It gives me great pleasure to see we have in place a robust competition programme which allows for much participation of players at all levels of the game including the 35 clubs playing M/Y rugby. The end of season Bowl Final, Vets Cup Final, Middlesex Cup Final and Club Middlesex 7s were all great occasions enjoyed by all.
The excellent volunteers’ evening at RFU held in June is a commitment by both the RFU and Middlesex in recognition of valuing the work of the volunteers which are the heartbeat of our clubs. I have many people to thank for allowing my first season as President to be such an enjoyable experience. From working with the Management Committee who serve the County with passion and pride, to our Group members who are the conduit in providing the information to our club members, and to all our member clubs officials who have made me feel very welcome on my visits. Can I also thank our Local delivery team for the part they play in developing many areas of rugby and to our Past Presidents and Life Vice Presidents who have given me much advice and support. Finally, to Rachel Barry and Nicky Fielder, our hardworking administrators, can I thank them most warmly for their support.
As the season draws to a close, I’d like to take the opportunity to make a few observations about our rugby family in the County. Our core values and our commitment to them, are what sets this game apart from so many other sports. Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship must remain fundamental to everything we do. Middlesex is a very special place, and not because we don’t exist as an administrative County any longer but because we serve the most diverse, culturally mixed population in the world. We want to take a leading position on providing equal opportunities, fair treatment and respect for everyone involved in our game. We can only do that through you, our volunteers, players, officials, “blazers” and supporters. I urge you to take a little time this Summer to think about our values. If you want food for thought, there is some inspiration on the RFU website if you follow this link
I have encouraged the County Management to read and contemplate what the statement means to them, and I ask you to do the same, no matter what role you play in your club or team. It’s vital to our continued success that we all aim for the same very high standards. Next season, we celebrate the 140th anniversary of Middlesex County RFU and we are in very different times with an ever-changing rugby landscape. We have in place a Middlesex Local Delivery Plan, put together by various stakeholders which reflects the changing times and is our guide to strengthen our member clubs and the communities around them.
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. Can I also thank Simon Hardcastle (Assistant County Secretary), my fellow County Officers, all members of the 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