Scrum Down: Raising money and having a craic - a winning Combination
NORTH Gloucester Combination rugby is being revitalised, thanks to the launch of a new side for 30 to 35-year-olds.
For decades the Combination has played a key role in the county rugby scene by holding special exhibition and testimonial matches to help out stricken individuals or member clubs.
Last week the Combination's Veterans side played Coney Hill Vets to raise money for Cancer Research in memory of Hill stalwart Mark Saysell, who lost his battle with the illness in August.
However, the popularity of the century-old organisation has waned in recent years amid worries that not enough 'new blood' is coming through the ranks to help fill the veterans' void.
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But that is changing with a group of former Old Richians team-mates joining forces to form a new side that aims to fill the void between senior and veterans rugby.
Widden Old Boys chairman Dave Easterbook is at the helm with Matson coach Leon Liggett lending his support and expertise.
Sid King from Coney Hill, Ben Slatter from Old Cetralians and Coney Hill head coach Chris Hall have also been asked to pull on the boots and help give the new team a kick-start.
Easterbook hopes that the crew of old team-mates can combine to raise plenty of money and help reinvigorate the Combination.
"Years ago in Gloucester to play for the Combination was an achievement," Easterbook said.
"If you wanted to raise funds, or there was an injury at your club you would ring the Combination and say 'is there any chance you can play?'
"It would be a mixture of the best players from a certain age group and you raised some money.
"But this season, the Vets played at Brockworth in October and hardly any people turned up, and if that happens, the next time there's a match on you're probably not going to bother.
"Years ago the Combination used to play other Combination sides from Bristol and Bath and even played Gloucester United.
"I want to try and bring that back."
Easterbrook will have his work cut out, however, as the current veterans' team draws its players from a group of players between the ages of 45 to 50.
Therefore he wants the new group to help bridge that gap and specifically aid those players who are currently bringing their playing careers to an end.
"The Vets are not the strongest at the moment and their age group is about 45 to 50 but then you have a big ten-year gap," he explained.
"If someone from Brockworth between the age of 28 and 32 has a serious injury, we can go and play for them.
"We want to use this new side as a feeder. That will make the Vets stronger and then hopefully that will make Combination rugby stronger."
End of season promotion and relegation issues in club rugby added to the rigours of a tough Combination Cup campaign limits the amount of fixtures for the new side.
The first match will be played this weekend with a second in the pipeline against a Bristol Combination team in February.
Easterbrook says the advent of the league structure has made it difficult for old friends to play on the same side.
But with the new side actively encouraging mates to play alongside one another, he hopes that can change.
"Nobody really knows anybody from other clubs anymore because the league structures don't let anybody mix," added Easterbrook.
"We want to try and bring a bit of local atmosphere back and get a bit of the craic back into local rugby again.
"Years ago if you were playing away you'd stop off at three or four rugby clubs on your way back and have a drink with them.
"We know someone in every rugby club so this has been talked about for about five or six months.
"We're going to play some decent rugby as mates again but also support local clubs who have had problems.
"At the end of the day we want to be able to go and have a bit of fun with mates but we can also go to rugby clubs and raise some money for whatever they want to raise some money for."