Scrum Down: University link-up is expected to help Richians
OLD Richians Rugby Club are embarking upon a ground-breaking partnership with the University of Gloucestershire.
After being relegated from the Gloucester Premier Division last year, the Longlevens outfit saw a number of players depart, leaving them short.
With the university looking to strengthen their community links with the clubs around them, they stepped in to try and help out.
Richians players will have access to the all-weather artificial pitch to train on, full use of the gymnasium equipment and one-to-one strength and conditioning coaching.
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They will also benefit from top-of-the-range physiotherapy to aid their recoveries as well the university's coaches, who are working with the county's first professional rugby league club.
The University of Gloucestershire All Golds will make their debuts in Championship One in March, which is two levels below the Super League.
Richians have been the home of the Gloucestershire Warriors rugby league side for the past few seasons and therefore have a history of collaboration.
The university will also provide a number of players to play and train for Richians on Saturdays, which will help drive up competition and standards.
Ken Stone, director of rugby at the university and now at Old Richians, says the players will become fitter, stronger and faster.
He said: "The players will have access to the all-weather pitch for training as well as the bio mechanics lab for strength and conditioning and rehabilitation aspects with the sports therapy department.
"All those aspects together will create an opportunity for a player to be as close as he can possibly get to having the support of what a professional rugby player gets.
"For an existing senior player at the club, he will be getting free access to the gym facilities with a supervised strength and conditioner.
"They are getting one-to-one personal training to hopefully make them fitter, faster and stronger twice a week.
"As well as that, they are also receiving coaching from myself and other members of staff who are coming in to develop their rugby skills.
"All that packaged together with the sports physiotherapy and support will give someone the opportunity to be the best they can possibly be.
"That player knows he has had all of this help and has not had to pay for it.
"Not only that, but he has not had to play at the highest level to attain it, which normally has to happen."
Students studying qualifications such as sports coaching will visit Old Richians to help train their thriving minis and juniors section.
The club will therefore benefit from up-to-date coaching techniques that their courses teach while the students will have invaluable time on the training field.
Any player at the club identified in the 16 to 19 age bracket showing signs of potential will be offered a bursary to study at the university.
With universities pushing up tuition fees, this year may lead more teenagers to stay at home to study.
One player has already started on the scheme, Max Hall, who is now studying sports coaching and it is hoped these individuals will then filter back into the club eventually.
For example, Hall could help coach the club's various age groups while studying towards his qualifications and then remain in the area and help coach the first team in the future.
Richians chairman Doug White said it is a win-win scenario for both parties.
He said: "It has helped push up standards. Training numbers have been really good and the fitness levels are definitely getting better.
"I know some of the lads have worked hard and the majority are getting extra training and making the most of it.
"You have strength and conditioning on one day, then coaching sessions available to us on another day, and the level of coaching is pretty good.
"The rugby league professional side are starting up soon and some of the coaching from there is being brought into our level.
"Hopefully it will build up to us getting promoted one day and the feel-good factor will make people want to stay.
"There is no such thing as loyalty in clubs anymore, I'm afraid, and players just seem to float around and don't actually stick with their club.
"When half of your first team has left because you have been relegated it is a massive blow.
"It is early days yet and it is still in its infancy but it is a three-year plan.
"We have won all five from five under Ken with three of them being league fixtures and we are only one point behind Newent at the moment.
"It has been very positive and people are starting to see the benefits of it."
Stone and White were both keen to stress that any worries about the club losing its identity are unfounded.
Stone grew up in Longlevens and therefore knows the area well while White has been involved with Richians since the late 1970s and both have said the partnership has been accepted.
Stone said: "People have been coming out of retirement because of the positives they are seeing and previous Old Richians players like Al Bryan and Marcus Brown have joined the revolution.
"They were not enjoying playing before and now they are back at the club and want to be a part of it and that is what is refreshing.
"There's always apprehension and my concern was how was this going to go down but everyone has embraced it."
White added: "When I put it to the club's committee there was trepidation at first.
"It has not been done before and we were worried about losing our identity but that has so far not happened.
"I don't think it will to be honest because we seem to be attracting some of our old players back as well.
"Last Saturday only two of the university players were in the team so most of our first team is a lot of the old team anyway. It is a positive step forward and it seems to be working so far."