Chairman of rugby Kevin Scott says last season’s relegation has had the silver lining of giving Winlaton Vulcans’ youngsters a head start in senior rugby.
Dropping down into Durham and Northumberland Three, the bottom rung of the RFU pyramid, the Axwell View outfit are in better shape on all fronts now than they have been in a long while.
With improved playing and clubhouse facilities thanks to grant funding, their up-and-coming squad were 101-0 winners over Washington last weekend in a 15-try triumph which promoted them to third in the table.
Scott explained: “We are going through a rebuilding process with a lot of younger players getting their chance.
“Much of our first-team squad now is made up of lads around the 20-21 mark, and we are keen for those players to come through.
“We have a new coach in Tony Horsfall, who is a former player at the club.
“He coached Ryton Under-18s to the County Cup final during his time there, and has been making a really positive impact for us
“We also have a new forwards coach in Ray Marshall, who people around the rugby circuit will know as ‘Biffa’.
“He propped for Blaydon for a number of years, is a local lad and we have had a decent season with those guys really leading the way.”
Beaten only twice in their eight matches in the division, Scott said: “We had been second in the league until we got beat by South Tyneside College a couple of weeks ago, who are now second.
“But there is not between the top few sides with Seaham on top and Chester-le-Street behind us.”
Taking the hit with relegation last season, Scott said: “During the campaign Ian Kelly left as coach for health reasons, and a lot of players went at that time.
“Some of the older players decided to play down the teams and give the younger lads a crack at the first team which, although difficult at the time, it has stood them in good stead when we look back now.
“That young squad has stuck together, learnt a lot from last season and come out better for the experience.
“We are happy with how this year has gone so far, and there is a real buzz around the club again.
“Lads are enjoying their rugby and getting the rewards for it, which is the main thing.
“People stay around in the bar after games, the atmosphere is good and the social side is there.”
Himself among the senior players to have retired within the past year, Scott said: “I played lock and No 8 for Winlaton for 37 years until my retirement two months ago, and my son David is still playing centre or back-row for the first-team.
“There are a number of father-and-son combinations in the playing squad, which just illustrates what a family club we are.
“We are a local club who host all sorts of community events at our clubhouse, and we just like to get everybody involved from the local area, whether they are interested in rugby or not.
“We have got Ryton and Blaydon pretty close by in that little triangle of rugby clubs, so we don’t have a huge catchment area and people do compete for players, but we do our best and are making some progress.
“We won the Junior County Cup two years ago, and although we got relegated into Durham and Northumberland Three we are on the up again.”
Making no bones about the aim this season, the chairman of rugby is adamant ascension into Durham and Northumberland Two remains on the agenda.
That picture should become a little clearer on Saturday when they travel to leaders Seaham, who have only lost a single one of their eight league games so far.
“Two teams go up automatically into Durham and Northumberland Two, and we are aiming for promotion,” said Scott.
“The lads are doing well, and if you look at the table we have scored the most points as well as conceding the least in the division.
“We have had some good results, and we are trying to play a more open, expansive game. For Winlaton that is quite a cultural change because we have traditionally been a forward-dominated side, but it seems to be working well.”
Making similarly positive progress off the field, he added: “We got the RFU Seal of Approval award through the schools and club partnership, which gives us access to schools in terms of hosting competitions and coaching sessions.
“Local football and rugby league teams use our pitches, and as well as the sport we have loads of residents’ quizzes, dances and that sort of thing.
“Two years ago we received a £130,000 grant to get our pitches upgraded and fenced off, through the RFU and SITA, and we received further grants for a new tractor and kitchen facilities. Craig McFarlane at the club has been amazing in the work he has done to bring in that funding, and it has made such a difference for us.”