Leeds Tykes, Wharfedale, Rotherham Titans and Yorkshire’s rugby union fraternity finally starting to emerge from a year of lockdown

The latest in our sport in lockdown series focuses on rugby union where the likes of Wharfedale, Leeds Tykes and Rotherham Titans have not played for over a year. Dave Craven assessed the mood.

Out of action: The scene at Wharfedale’s Threshfields ground in happier times, main and right, when rugby union was being played and the ground was a thriving hub of spectators, players family and friends. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

FOR John Spencer, the Wharfedale president who lives literally a stone’s throw – or sizeable punt – away from the club’s Threshfield ground, the last 12 months must have felt harder than most.

It is one thing to not be able to watch or play rugby union for more than a year but to have a constant reminder of what you are missing staring at it you in your back garden must have felt like torture.

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Thankfully, Wharfedale’s senior team were at least back training on Tuesday night and the club – situated in one of the sport’s most picturesque settings in the Yorkshire Dales – also saw its junior players resume practice last weekend.

Wharfedale Rugby Club, Threshfield. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Like in all walks of life, coronavirus has played havoc with rugby union, particularly below the top two divisions where – aside from a handful of clubs managing a friendly when restrictions were lifted briefly in December – teams have been out of action since last March.

Spencer, the former Headingley, Yorkshire, England and British Lions centre, told The Yorkshire Post: “It has been frustrating. Sport is something men and women look forward to to take away the pressures of other aspects of life and, of course, with Covid, the pressures have been greater recently than they perhaps have ever been.

“The sooner we get the people back to training and playing the more relief there will be in a lot of households. That’s because it’s school children of the age six to guys the age of 46. And families generally; it’s not just the people who actually go on the field, it’s the people who support and see their friends to have a drink.

“I think that’s what I’ve missed most – seeing friends there. But it is fantastic things started up again this week, particularly for the mini juniors at Wharfedale.”

Phil Davies, Director of Rugby of Leeds Tykes who haven't played for over a year. (Picture: Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Largely down to goodwill from fans and sponsors alike, the National Two North club has managed to successfully navigate the financial implications of the pandemic.

“Fortunately, we’re financially sound,” explained Spencer.

“We have some good policies in place. We always have a reserve fund that will see us through our outgoings for the following season, assuming no income.

“When it came to tickets, passes and subs for this season, no one wanted their money back – or if they did, it’s very few – and it was the same with our sponsors so we’re fortunate and grateful for that. Looking at it, we didn’t open the clubhouse too much anyway and we have come out of this okay.

Rotherham Titans have also not played for over a year. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“We’re looking forward to getting going again, though, and hopefully there will be some matches soon.”

Although the entire 2020-21 season has been scrapped by the RFU and the new campaign is unlikely to start until September, Wharfedale plan to play in a round robin tournament with Leeds Tykes, Otley and Huddersfield.

Set to start on May 8, with games played under RFU modified rules and with Leeds-based travel company Ventur also putting up a £10,000 prize fund, a Final Days is scheduled for Emerald Headingley on June 19.

Details are yet to be finalised but it is something for the whole Broad Acres’ rugby union community to look forward to.

West Park Leeds Rugby Union Club on the oustskirts of North Leeds. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Leeds, meanwhile, find themselves in an unusual position.

Director of rugby Phil Davies, who led the club into the Premiership and the Heineken Cup during their halcyon days, was brought back to take charge of Yorkshire Carnegie in January 2020.

Carnegie were relegated from the Championship when lockdown initially began last March and Davies quickly made sure they reverted to their old name of Tykes.

They have also moved to West Park Leeds and are looking to start afresh in National One – but, because of the pandemic, have still to even hold a training session together.

Nevertheless, Davies has been working hard behind the scenes from his home in Wales and you can understand why he and his squad are so desperate to get together.

He said: “All the boys were pleased to hear the news that we could start training.

“We’ve still had quite a productive year really and big thanks to the board and the investors, players, coaches and the partnerships we’ve created.

“I’ve just been overwhelmed with the support for Leeds Tykes again. We know we have a hell of a long way to go but over the last 12 months the engagement has been fantastic, particularly the players as we haven’t even got on the field together, passed a ball or made a tackle yet.

“It’s been a massive team effort. Lots of supporters have been getting involved as well so it’s been terrific. We’re in a great place and everybody is excited about the future. We have massive challenges ahead both on and off the field but we just can’t wait to get back to training.

“We’ll be doing that for the first time on Tuesday evening with as many boys as are available. We’re also training Wednesday and Thursday. We’ll speak to the squad about the way we’re going to play - and the tournament’s definitely going ahead.”

For a player’s view of life in the pandemic, it coincided with Doncaster Knights captain Michael Hills ending his professional career last April.

He switched to Rotherham Titans for the 2020-21 season but, of course, has yet to properly link up with the National Two North club.

Still, the 35-year-old flanker is re-energised and said: “For about five or six months I didn’t miss rugby at all. It was exactly what I needed. It was perfect to have some time away. I think a lot of lads – especially in my situation who have been playing constantly since they were 18 years old and had no break – might have appreciated it, to step away from something that obviously you began by loving but then became your job.

“But now I’m excited to get back to it. At whatever level. And it’s not the day job, either.”

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