SEASON REVIEW: It’s a case of unfinished business for Wisbech Rugby Club

PUBLISHED: 10:06 31 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:06 31 March 2020

From left: Rambo Vinksna, Mickey Watts, Henry Lankfer, Luke Green and Marius Steponaitis after Wisbech won at Thurston. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAAL

From left: Rambo Vinksna, Mickey Watts, Henry Lankfer, Luke Green and Marius Steponaitis after Wisbech won at Thurston. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAAL

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It was a case of unfinished business for Wisbech 1sts, but the junior sides continued to impress during a busy 2019-20 campaign.

Some of Wisbech Rugby Club's star players at senior and junior level across the 2019-20 season. Pictures: LEONARD VEENENDAALSome of Wisbech Rugby Club's star players at senior and junior level across the 2019-20 season. Pictures: LEONARD VEENENDAAL

The men’s season did not get off to the desired start as the squad quickly found itself struggling with unavailability of key players and a mounting injury count.

By Christmas, the 1st XV were at the foot of the league table facing a relegation battle, with Wisbech director of rugby Leonard Veenendaal saying at the time: “I understand that some injuries are unavoidable.

“This is a tough physical sport and this is something you can never really prepare for. Losing is frustrating but losing because your team isn’t healthy would be even worse.”

By the end of January, several senior players were returning from injury which saw the side picking up some invaluable wins home and away.

The Wisbech Colts team at Wymondham. From left: George Overland, Zac Lakey, Luke Hare, Nick Little and Owen Ketteringham. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAALThe Wisbech Colts team at Wymondham. From left: George Overland, Zac Lakey, Luke Hare, Nick Little and Owen Ketteringham. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAAL

The squad was further boosted with the signing of several much-needed players in key positions. This was reflected when the 1st XV, against all expectations, convincingly beat a strong Crusaders team away from home in their last match played.

This left the 1st XV with three remaining league matches all at home with the prospect of fielding arguably the strongest squad the club have fielded for a couple of seasons.

Unfortunately, the season was suspended due to the coronavirus, leaving the squad with a renewed energy and a sense of unfinished business.

One of the major priorities of the management committee over the previous year had been the implementation of an effective transition strategy from junior to senior rugby.

The Wisbech under 10s team at the Deepings festival. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAALThe Wisbech under 10s team at the Deepings festival. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAAL

In the first year, several of the under 17 and 18s successfully transitioned to adult rugby making their debuts in the Wildcats and 1st XV.

The club had not realistically expected to field an under 18 colts team for the 2019-20 season, but surprisingly and beyond the coaches’ expectations, welcomed back more boys than initially anticipated.

The group settled into a tight unit training with the senior squad, showing accelerated development and playing a mixture of colts and adult rugby equating themselves with distinction. This was notable in that several young players earned representative honours during the season.

In November 2019, four Wisbech players were selected for Cambridgeshire RFU’s under 17s and played against Suffolk RFU.

Wisbech under 16s. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAALWisbech under 16s. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAAL

Six under 20s players earned county recognition and played against Cambridge University under 20s.

These players were: Dan di Meo, Frazer Brown, Henry Lankfer, Will Lankfer, Tom Goude and Ben Goude. These players were all included in the Eastern Counties under 20s development pathway programme alongside Zac Lakey and Luke Green.

All eight of these young players have been involved with the club’s 1st XV squad during the season and have acquitted themselves well.

The highlight in terms of representative honours came when di Meo and Henry Lankfer were selected for the Eastern Counties squad.

Wisbech recorded one of their most impressive results of the London Three Eastern Counties League season at Crusaders. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAALWisbech recorded one of their most impressive results of the London Three Eastern Counties League season at Crusaders. Picture: LEONARD VEENENDAAL

This squad played in the Jason Leonard under 20 county championship and played matches against Middlesex RFU under 20s and Essex RFU under 20s. Both players scored tries in the encounter with Essex.

The under 6s-under 12s squads continued to attract new players throughout the season. These squads played fixtures against clubs in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and the East Midlands. The club looks forward to welcoming these young players back to rugby activities soon.

The under 16s squads have enjoyed a great season. There were several emphatic wins and narrow defeats for a squad that showed excellent team spirit and a desire to improve performances.

The team impressed in matches against some of the larger clubs in the eastern counties and played Peterborough RFC in the Bowl final of the Cambridgeshire RFU Cup, losing 22-21.

Veenendaal said: “Both our mini and junior sections continue to grow with most teams regularly welcoming new players.

“This is matched by a positive success rate on the pitch as reflected by the weekly match results, but more importantly the enjoyment and togetherness both on and off the pitch by all teams across the club.

“In spite of the majority of matches being away from home, our 2nd XV, the Wildcats, continue to go from strength to strength and I am hugely encouraged but the blend of veteran and young players with several of them pushing for 1st XV selection.

“The return of several players and a couple of new signings midway through the season brought a renewed confidence.

“In my years of rugby experience I would, without hesitation, have bet on three home wins, but it was not to be and hopefully we can pick up where we left off when the next season starts.

“Our ever-growing mini section, the current successful under 16s stepping up to colts rugby, our 2019/20 colts transitioning to adult rugby and the prospect of a confident, re-energised 1st XV, it’s looking to be a promising and exciting 2020/21 season that can’t come soon enough for us!”

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