Morpeth RFC aiming to retain satus while growing off the field

Mitford Road outfit have double ambition as community links tally with senior side retaining North One East status.

Morpeth Rugby Club in action
Morpeth Rugby Club in action

Morpeth face a major test of their ability remain in North One East when they travel to bottom-of-the-table Sheffield on Saturday.

Keen to maintain their position on the sixth rung down of the English rugby ladder, the Mitford Road outfit are hovering dangerously above the drop zone by just one point and one place, adamant they are in the right division.

Club president John Price said: “We have been in North One East for a good while now after being promoted, and taking into account the various shake-ups in the league structure.

“It feels like it is the right level for us and, while you do need the aspiration of doing better, most of the sides in the division above us are paying their players.

“It is a big step up into National Three North, and when you look below us at Durham and Northumberland One it is also a real battle down there.

“Having more local clubs would be good in some respects with a lot less travel to Yorkshire, but we as a club want to stay in this league and we feel it is about right at this time.”

With coach Michael Dungait in his third season in charge, Price said: “He is doing a fantastic job.

“He has a great rapport with the players. We provide a squad for him, but he selects the team and takes the training.

“In terms of our league season we were not looking so good over Christmas, and were in the relegation zone.

“We got off to a flying start which didn’t do us any favours in terms of complacency, but we are improving in what has been a difficult league to read.

“Every side seems to be going through phases, and we can’t say it is about injuries because the depth of our squad is stronger now.

“We are having to pull our socks up to avoid being one of the three teams going down, and we are showing more energy and commitment in everything we are doing.”

Given plenty of preparation time going into Saturday’s Sheffield trip, the president explained: “We had a free weekend last Saturday which was reserved for Northumberland County Cup games, but we had played a double-header with Northern the week before which we won 10-6 in difficult conditions.

“In terms of Sheffield they got a right hammering at Alnwick two weeks ago but, a little bit like ourselves, I think they find it difficult to get people playing the longer away trips.

“When they are at home they can turn out a far better team, and in general what you find is that players today are not as committed to travelling.

“Ourselves and a lot of the Northumberland clubs find the same when we travel down to Yorkshire, and we can have difficulty getting our teams out.

“We get both sides of it because clubs like Huddersfield struggle for numbers when they come up to us, but Sheffield are still a good side despite their league position.

“They have recruited a few players from Sheffield Tigers, and at home they are a different proposition.”

Thankfully unaffected this year by a familiar foe when it comes to flooding, Price painted a picture of a club taking big strides when it comes to off-field and community links.

“We have spent a lot of money on drainage, and we also have a third pitch across the river which is on very sandy flood plain,” he said.

“If our first-team pitch is too bad it is usually a good alternative, and a lot of the players enjoy playing on it. Over the last decade or so we have been fortunate in being successful with some grant applications, and it started in 2004 when we managed to buy the freehold of the club from the district council.

“We now own everything, and in 2009 built new changing rooms on the site. We have just completed the refurbishment of a squash court into a gym and a meeting room, and it is all gradually coming together.

“We are very much a community club, and that is the name of the game these days.”

With women’s rugby and youth participation in the game high on the agenda, Price added: “You have to get yourselves out there to get the players, and to hit certain criteria to be eligible for grants.

“It is all about getting people down and being part of their local club, and we have just become a satellite club for Northumberland Sport.

“That means we put a coach into King Edward School, aimed at trying to get people who might not play any specific sport into trying a bit of touch rugby.

It is up to 18 or 19-year-olds who might not necessarily be interested in joining the rugby club, but it is getting them active and involved in sport.

“We are also trying to reinvigorate our women’s section and, along with Novos and Sunderland, have just become a hub to get the ladies’ game boosted again.

“We had a very successful side three seasons ago, but the fixtures were not always managed very well. We were having to travel huge distances for games, and the girls weren’t getting regular rugby.

“It fell away, but the RFU are now putting their resources into getting teams going again and playing games in their area.

“We are trying our hardest to keep up there, and to keep the sport thriving in Morpeth.”

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