Revamp set to make Eastern Counties Rugby League more attractive to clubs and players

Jamie Smith hustles into touch. Woodbridge v Crusaders

Jamie Smith hustles into touch. Woodbridge v Crusaders - Credit: Archant

Eastern Counties Rugby will hopefully become more enjoyable and attractive for players and clubs when a revamped league structure is introduced next season.

That is according to Competitions Chairman John Mackay after plans, including the creation of TWO eastern Counties 2 Divisions – featuring teams from Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – were passed in principle at the league’s last management meeting.

Eastern Counties 1 will remain the same, but the level below will be split into two more localised leagues of 12 (north and south) and will be made up of next season’s Eastern Counties 2 teams, plus five Suffolk Merit sides, five Greene King Premier (Cambridgeshire) teams and four Norfolk Merit teams.

The Suffolk Merit League will be scrapped and new Eastern Counties 3 and 4 leagues (both split into north, south and central divisions) will be launched with the emphasis on encouraging teams to complete their fixture lists.

Those clubs, along with teams in EC2 will be afforded more leniency and, for example, will be allowed to field as many unregistered players as they want for a game, without being penalised.

In Eastern Counties 3 and 4, bonus points will be scrapped for winning and losing games, but WILL be awarded to teams who complete their fixtures with penalties brought in for those who don’t.

“The main intention is to attract players to play rugby by making the league structure more attractive at lower levels,” said Mackay.

Most Read

“Players don’t always wish to travel long distances or have disparities between leagues, playing in games where they are being thrashed or winning by big margins every week.

“Whether the new structure will attract newcomers is another matter, but we’re hoping it might retain players who are perhaps getting on in years, who maybe have more family responsibilities and who are not able to spend huge amounts of time playing rugby at a weekend.

“Some Saturdays, players can be setting off for games at 10.30 in the morning and not returning until six or seven at night.

“It is about making the games more enjoyable and evenly-matched and perhaps we will be able to attract players back to the game who have maybe gone to university or have other commitments.”

The plans were put on hold in November 2012, after a great deal of work had been done by former president Harry Moore, despite a small majority of clubs voting in favour of the changes.

Mackay admits the response to the structure has been “muted” but while the league hopes to strike the right balance in its first season, a few teething problems would not be unexpected.

“We are not foolish enough to think we are going to please every single person and club,” said Mackay.

“It is about taking into account how the clubs and players feel and about them finding a level at which they are happy playing.

“We would like to think that all the leagues will become more competitive and evenly-matched and would like to get it right first time, but adjustments could be necessary along the way.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter