Cast your eyes through the teams in the Hampshire One Rugby league and you may notice something quite special. For the first time in many years the level 9 league will feature 3 sides from the Isle of Wight this season; Ventnor, Sandown & Shanklin and Isle of Wight RFC.
Rugby has a long history on the Island but has had something of a resurgence in recent years which has been particularly evident at Isle of Wight RFC.
Current Chairman and 1st XV player Ollie Boulter who, at 36, may be the youngest in the country to hold both roles said:
“We’re an unique club on a unique island.
“Promoting rugby in the community is very important to us. Our aim has been to get things right off the field to create success on the pitch and it’s working.”
While overhauling their facilities in recent years, which won them the Better Facilities prize at the RFU President’s Awards, they have also seen a notable increase in player recruitment and improved player retention.
“We’ve now got new floodlights, better social spaces, improved disabled access and we’re working on new changing rooms which will all help develop and expand the club”.
To have 3 teams from the island in the same league is an advantage in many ways says Boulter:
“Firstly it will help cut costs in travel which is great but more importantly it will definitely generate interest in rugby on the island and that can only be good for expanding the sport.”
Sandown and Shanklin beat the Isle of Wight home and away last season but Head Coach David Metcalfe is confident his side can come out on top this year…
“You can throw the form book out when it comes to the local derbies. It will be a fantastic occasion to play them both and we will approach those matches with plenty of ambition”.
Ambition certainly seems to be the keyword at Isle of Wight RFC. Recent success in transforming their facilities and attracting new players has led to aspirations on the pitch for the 1st XV. The club were promoted from Hampshire 2 in the 2009/10 season and have been a consistent presence in Hampshire 1 ever since.
“There’s always the ambition to go as high as we can in terms of the leagues,” says Metcalfe and while playing London 3 may be one day be a reality, Metcalfe says the priority is maintaining the club ethos.
“Our main goal is to keep growing the sport here. We’re like a family here, the most important thing for us is to grow the sport in our community and on the Island as a whole.”
With all 3 teams riding a wave of success, it seems the only way is up for the rugby on the Isle of Wight.
Article: Englandrugby.com. Photos: Keith Johnson (www.sterlingcreationsphotography.co.uk)