North Walsham

All change at rugby club

Just Regional
Jun 19, 2020 3 mins read

Paul Morse tells us about some changes at North Walsham Rugby Club.

Whilst the Premiership, the top tier of English Rugby, is due to restart in August, there is no news on when the new rugby season might begin for clubs below that level.

It is four months since the Vikings last played, coronavirus bringing down the curtain on their 2019 -20 season nine weeks early.

Last season was a truly memorable one, promotion to London and South East Premier being achieved by the huge margin of 29 points whilst playing a brand of rugby that was a joy to watch.

Their new league, which stetches to the south coast and west to Hampshire, is one of four fifth-tier leagues, putting them among the country’s top 120 clubs. They last played at this level 10 years ago.

While promotion resulted from one season’s results, it was the outcome of years of strengthening the club. That will need to continue if it is to establish itself in the next tier up, where they will be competing with far better resourced clubs, though the economic impact of the pandemic is not yet clear. Unlike most clubs at this level North Walsham don’t pay their players and have no intention of doing so.

James Knight, the new director of rugby, in action on the pitch.

Consequently, the club has made changes to help sustain its hard-won position. The coaching set up has been restructured with James Knight appointed to the new post of director of rugby. He will have oversight of all playing and coaching, merging responsibilities previously held by head of rugby Johnny Marsters and playing director Alan Hepburn.

Aged 31, James was educated in Reepham, debuting for the Vikings at 17 after coming through the Youth and Minis. Capped by Scotland at Under 18s/19s/20s, he played professionally for three years in the Championship with Bedford, then moved on to Western Australia, La Vila (Spain) and Glasgow Warriors, returning to Scottow in 2012-13, since when he has been integral to the Vikings’ progression as a senior coach and player.

James also coaches at Langley School and Leicester Tigers’ Junior Academy. One of his early tasks is increasing the size of the squad. Three new signings have already been made: Chowa John Chanda (UEA – 2nd/back row), Ben Rendall (UEA – no 8) and Lewis Smith (Crusaders – prop). 

There has been a reorganisation, too, at board level, reflecting the workload on directors, all of whom are volunteers. John Baines has become chair, Keith Jarvis stepping down after three years.

Other newcomers are Alix Stimpson (Youth and Minis), Ashley Hicks (finance), Julia Hicks (hospitality and corporate events), Richard Lomax (marketing) and Rob Stimpson (facilities).

Returning to North Walsham as team manager is Seb Anthony, a player at Scottow for many years including two as captain. He has successfully coached Southwold at youth and senior levels for more than 10 seasons.

Facilities at Scottow Park are also being improved. Enhancements include resurfacing and doubling the size of the car park, a new pitch for the Valkyries and upgrading the floodlights.

Plenty of changes, then – all we need now is some rugby!

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