THERE will be a step back towards years of old today when Doncaster Knights head to a Richmond side who are doing things differently as a semi-professional club.
Although the Championship has, for some time, been made up of full-time operations, Richmond have decided to stick to part-time status, having just moved up from National One.
Of course, as one of the game’s founding members who also played in the first game at Twickenham, they are one of rugby’s most famous names.
Richmond especially came to the fore when becoming the first professional club in 1996, millionaire Ashley Levett lavishly spending on big-name players.
That all ended disastrously three years later, though, when they entered administration and, in 2000, an ill-fated merger with London Scottish to form London Irish, saw amateur club Richmond reformed.
Now, however, they are competing with the financial muscle of teams like Irish, ironically relegated from the Premiership last season, and all the other sides whose players’ sole job is to train in readiness for the weekend.
Many of Richmond’s players work in the City, including Tyler Hotson, the Canadian lock who joined from Doncaster in the summer, and only train a handful of hours each week on evenings.
It will be interesting to see if they can compete – they are still awaiting a first win after losing 36-12 at Irish last week and 41-16 at home to Jersey in their first game back – but Knights lock Matt Challinor backs their decision.
“To be fair, I think they’re doing it right,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “I think they have learned from some of their mistakes in the early 90s and are not putting all their eggs in one basket. They are running the club how they see fit, how they can afford it. With the limited funding the Championship does get, I can see a few clubs resorting to that. If you can earn a few quid on top of your normal nine-to-five job I see how that’s attractive to certain players.”
He is looking forward to tackling Hotson, his team-mate at Castle Park for the last two seasons, who now combines playing at Richmond with a job at Goldman Sachs.
“While he was here, he was working on Wednesdays, his day off to gain some experience,” said Challinor.
“He’s gone into some business analysis type role in London so one of the high-flying jobs! He’s switched on is Tyler and I’m sure he’ll do really well in that career as well.
“He’s a quality player and I have a lot of respect for him. I think at times last year he fell out of favour a little and I don’t think he was going to play regardless.
“But he’s a good line-out technician and I am looking forward to meeting on the field.”
Hotson did, indeed, struggle for game-time last season when Doncaster enjoyed that remarkable campaign, finishing second and making a maiden Championship final.
It was fellow countryman Jon Phelan who partnered Challinor mostly but he, too, has left, heading home to Canada.
Subsequently, there was still signs of teething problems in Doncaster’s line-out during the 25-13 derby win over Rotherham Titans a week ago – last season’s Championship Team of the Year hooker Ben Hunter has also been sidelined so far – but Challinor said: “We’ve recruited really well.
“We’ve got young Glen Young from Newcastle and Dave Nolan and both have taken to it really well. They spend a lot of time analysing teams and drilling the lads.
“It hasn’t been seamless but they’re doing a really good job and it will only get better as the season goes on.”
Doncaster lost 19-0 at Irish in their first game and will look for a more profitable return to the capital this afternoon.
“I’m sure teams will go to Irish and lose by more than 19 but the fashion of how we lost was disappointing – we didn’t really compose ourselves,” explained Challinor, the 32-year-old in his sixth season at Castle Park after joining from Titans.
“We needed to get a win under our belt by beating Rotherham and, being the derby, that was the most important thing, for me.”
Former Rotherham full-back Sean Scanlon debuts today with Paul Jarvis moving to the wing in place of Dougie Flockhart, Andy Bulumakau coming in for Mat Clark and Ben Hunter returning.