H&B Getting Fit for Purpose

Rugby in July – what are the seasons coming to? But with the British Lions’ summer tour of South Africa about to replace European tournament football on our TV screens, the players and coaches of local flagship club Hastings & Bexhill will also be gearing up from this week onwards to deliver a two-month fitness programme led by new senior coach Leslie Hunter and his backs coach, former club captain Kit Claughton. The aim is to get a squad of players fully fit and motivated for a new competitive season starting in mid-September.

CREDIT: Peter Knight

There has been no rugby in Britain at any level below the professional elite since March last year. As a sport of close physical contact between 30 or more players in a confined space, it has inevitably fallen foul of Covid restrictions. Back in June 2020, after the first lockdown, training in groups of up to six players was sanctioned and, in the autumn, permission given for this number to be expanded – but only on a touch basis: no tackling, no scrums. The aim was to resume competitive play in January. Then came the second lockdown and, swiftly, the realisation that season 2020/21 was a write-off. 

If anyone thought that this hiatus might deal crushing long-term damage to the sport, it seems from H&B’s experience that it isn’t so. In May this year, when the club organised via social media a one-off non-contact training session, up to 70 adults turned up. Hunter says he was not only very heartened but also amazed by the level of enthusiasm.

“There’s been a loss of community during the lockdowns and restrictive periods,” he reckons. “I think that people want to re-connect, even though there’s still very little scope for socialisation off the field – we haven’t reopened our bar, for instance.” And he is confident that he can harness this renewed enthusiasm to raise both fitness levels and core skills to make a successful team, assuming that the 2021/22 season is allowed to run its course.

H&B (in blue and white) in action 2020
CREDIT: Peter Knight

Hunter is only 38, younger than some of the likely first team squad, but has already had seven years of coaching experience in Sussex, first at Plumpton, more recently at East Grinstead. He moved with his family to St Leonards, and was actually appointed to the senior role at H&B in March last year, just as the sport was halted.

Hunter sees the next two months as a key period to ensure that the players are ready for September

As with any local club, success will come from developing and applying the skills and aptitudes of the players who are at the coach’s disposal. In recent seasons H&B’s strength has been in what Hunter calls “mobility” – moving the ball quickly across the pitch and  maintaining a high energy level, so that other teams that may have, for instance, a heavier pack, cannot keep pace. To play like that requires good physical conditioning, and Hunter sees the next two months as a key period to ensure that the players are ready for September.

Hunter and Claughton also emphasise the need to develop leadership skills, so that players will take responsibility at key moments in match conditions. Fitness is one thing; using it to best effect is another. Let’s hope that at least they are given an uninterrupted season of fully competitive rugby to do it.

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