The Kids Are Alright – Juniors Help Revive Ailing Rugby Club


Manchester Rugby Club’s 1st XV now resides in South Lancashire/Cheshire Division One. This is a far cry from the dizzy heights of the Championship, nearly a decade ago.
In the 80s and 90s Manchester was a thriving amateur club with 5 Senior Men’s Teams, a Ladies’ Team, regular Veterans’ side, and a large Mini and Junior (M&J) section.
In the early 00s, the lure of moving up the divisions gripped Manchester and the Club embarked on a challenge to go much higher up the leagues. The ‘Professional’ era came to Manchester, along with a large player wage bill. The Club was flying high, but if you scratched the surface not all was well.
The number of senior sides dwindled as graduates from the M&J section saw the 1st XV as too elite and left to join other local clubs; and previous senior rugby players became disenfranchised with the professional colleagues.
In 2008, the brakes were slammed on. The RFU funding model changed, the money was no longer there and without the money the players went elsewhere, and so started the longest ever losing streak of any rugby club in history. 87 straight losses, 4 seasons of defeats and 5 relegations in consecutive years.
Fortunately, for the Club the M&J section has continued to thrive, multiple Lancashire Cups, multiple County honours and as the M&J section financed itself, the professional era had little effect, and it is the M&J section that now populated the 1st XV. A few die hard seniors remained and they were joined by the then Colts team so Manchester Rugby Club could field a Senior XV on a Saturday. Gone had the 5 senior teams of the past, so with no player base to fall back on, the alienation had taken its toll.
Manchester M&J has a rich history of producing talent, with 4 current premiership players, more than any other club, and more than 7 England representatives in the last 5 years. This success is based on a player focussed philosophy where rugby’s core skills are taught in a game sense environment. ‘Game sense’ is where coaches have players playing different types of games to build their skills and adapt these games to get different results and actions from players. It creates more rounded rugby players with excellent core skills and a real understanding of how to play the game. The Manchester mantra is “skills not drills”, and the emphasis is always on fun and enjoyment in a low pressure environment. This philosophy has been the reason the senior team survived, as the majority of the Club’s 1st XV are the product of the M&J section.
The last two seasons has seen Manchester Rugby Club consolidate in the same division with a clear ambition to gain promotion this Season. The first games of the season saw a home victory versus a strong Bowden team – with 12 out of the 18 players coming from the M&J section. A number of who now have over a hundred caps for the Club.
Without such a strong and committed M&J section Manchester may have ceased to exist. The Club for a long time now has not paid players, it is very proud of its amateur status, and the Club’s stated aim to “be as successful as we can be whilst maintaining our amateur ethos, build from within” The paying for players era has long gone and is a broken model. It took Manchester to the brink, but its M&J players have brought it back. The Club still has financial challenges much as any amateur sports Club, but one thing is for sure the community amateur philosophy is very much engrained in the Manchester Rugby’s ethos.
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