Head of Operations at Nottingham Rugby, Steve Smith

By Leon Blackman

The effects of Covid-19 on sport have meant Nottingham Rugby Club has been a whole year without playing a competitive game and Head of Operations Steve Smith says the team is raring to go.

“We’ve been back in training for a couple of months at Elite Rugby Stage 1 Return to Play now and the boys are desperate to get out there and compete. Some of these guys have been playing for 20 years and this will be the longest times in their careers without a game.”

Nottingham players return to team training

Nottingham played their last game against Cornish Pirates away on 1st March before the first national lockdown and testing have been the biggest hurdle to the restart of England’s Rugby Union Second Division.

“Testing is going to cost us about £75 a head per week and for a club like ours whose budget doesn’t compare to those clubs in the Premiership it is a huge expense, particularly without crowds and the ability to generate income.”

Championship, National 1+2 clubs, England’s top 3 divisions below the Premiership have seen cuts in their payments over recent years and Steve believes that the support from the government for elite Rugby Union has been slow to materialise.

“You’ve seen big grants handed out for the arts and other sectors, but sports have been dealt a harsh card in my opinion, being forced to close and with all income streams cut off it has been very hard.”

Championship clubs unanimously agreed on a new layout for the 2020/21 season where the 12 teams will be split up into two conferences, based on their standings in the 19/20 season.

The winners of the two conferences will meet in a two-legged play-off final with the winner determining who will be promoted to the Gallagher Premiership.

In Nottingham’s conference are Ealing Trailfinders, Coventry, Bedford Blues, Doncaster Knights, and Richmond.

Steve went on to say “we have had tremendous games against all of the opponents in our league over the years and it’s great to be able to lock horns with some of our closest rivals in Coventry, Bedford, and Doncaster.  I don’t think we would care who is in our league, everyone just wants to get back out on the pitch and compete to the best of their ability and get rugby going again.”

Nottingham players masked up and back in the gym

Despite an announcement and preliminary plans for the season to restart Smith is still reluctant about the March start date and says the state of the country will determine whether the Championship will restart come March.

“Realistically, there are many teams in London, and it doesn’t take a genius to know what’s happening with the transmission rates down there.

Can teams warrant traveling down to Ealing or Richmond when there are other big issues around? Hopefully, the vaccine will improve things and we will see what happens over the next two, three weeks.

We are feeling positive that March will be the start date, the squad is fairly fit, ready to go, we just need to get the guys doing contact work and get the bodies physically ready for a month or so’s time.”

The Greene King IPA Championship released a statement in December announcing that they hope to live stream matches to begin to bring back revenue to clubs who have suffered financially from Covid-19.