Friday, 13 September 2013

The start of Greene King IPA Championship

English club rugby is well known mainly because of strong Aviva Premiership. However, the other professional league is also worth looking at. I’m thinking about RFU Championship which has been rebranded to Greene King IPA Championship this season. The league itself was formed in 1987 and is one level below the Aviva Premiership. The first round kicks off this Saturday (14.09.2013).

The level and prestige of Championship is increasing year by year. Clubs treat it very seriously and employ top players and coaches, which attracts more fans. The new season starts with three Double Headers. Ealing Trailfinders v London Scottish and London Welsh v Bedford Blues at Allianz Park (Saracens’ stadium); Moseley v Rotherham Titans and Nottingham Rugby v Leeds Carnegie at Castle Park at and Plymouth Albion v Jersey RFC, Cornish Pirates v Bristol Rugby at Sandy Park (Exeter Chiefs’ stadium). Below, I’d like to give you a short overview of teams which fight for the promotion to the elite competition.




Bedford Blues

Established in 1886. Last season finished 3rd. Since 2006 club has been cooperating with Leicester Tigers and has given young, prospecting players a chance to get a game time in competitive league. Coach Mark Rayer is well known for his eye to finding real diamonds and helping them develop their careers. Mark Atkinson who scored a hat-trick in the pre-season game against Northampton Saints is definitely one to watch for.




Bristol

Although last season the club finished 5th it’s still one of the main contenders to the title. Andy Robinson, a great coach who used to work with Bath, Edinburgh, England and Scotland national teams, wants the team to come back to the Premiership, which would be nice present for the clubs’ 125 years anniversary. The biggest achievement so far was the 3rd place in the Aviva Premiership in the season 2006/2007. The key player will be probably Welsh Fly half Nicky Robinson, who played for his country.



Cornish Pirates

Pirates are the mid table team. The club was pretty active in the transfer market, but new players are not big profile. The most recognisable person will probably be back row skipper Aaron Carpenter who is well known for his fantastic performance in Canadian National Team. His experience and leadership can be crucial for the team.




Ealing Trailfinders

The newcomers, who won National One with lots of confidence gaining 20 points advantage over the next team in the table will have a difficult task this season. They target is to stay in the Championship and strengthen the squad with 18 new players. Among them are the former Harlequins and London Wasps’ players. Ed Siggery – a dynamic flanker, who played in Scarlets and London Irish Academies, is expected to have a big impact this season.



Jersey

The islanders lost first six games and finished on the 11th place last season. This team will definitely aim to improve their performance. Several important players are injured but they are expected to be fit soon. One of the key figures is certainly Niall O’Connor who spent his last five seasons playing for Ulster.



Leeds Carnegie

The club managed to keep most of its playing squad which is a good change as traditionally the best players were leaving for the Aviva Premiership teams. The coach James Lowes is an interesting person. He used to coach rugby league for many years and decided to convert to union. If he can transfer his huge experience onto a different code, Leeds could be a real threat this season.


London Scottish

The team was lacking consistency last season. They had some very good games, particularly against Newcastle and Bedford, but the defence was the issue. Rivals scored 610 points against them which was the worst result in the league. They spent part of the pre-season preparation in Hong Kong. Will it prove beneficial? We will soon find out.





London Welsh

The club didn’t stay in Premiership for long. Rivals were too powerful and deducting points proved to be a real setback. Getting back to Premiership will not be easy. Most of the best players took their chances and signed new contracts with Premiership clubs. Winning the league again will be achallenging task.



Moseley

Moseley’s records in the Championship are not too impressive. The club always finishes in the bottom part of the table, and never gets better than the 10th place. This situation doesn’t look any better this season, either. The most interesting player in the team is probably Andy Robinson’s son Olly. Some say he has a bright future in the national team, but for now he only took part in England’s U18.



Nottingham

Last season was quite successful for the club. Nottingham finished second. This time, however, it will be much harder to stay in the top part of the table. Financial problems forced the club to make some radical cuts in the playing squad. They have only got 23 players, so high hopes are rather unrealistic.





Plymouth Albion

The club is in the transition period. It can’t yet compete financially with the best, but situation is steadily improving. The interesting fact is that the team’s coach is also a player. James Shanahan had excellent results in the lower leagues and tries to carry on his coaching and playing adventure. This is quite uncommon at this level.