There’s exciting times ahead for Stone Rugby Club after they were accepted in to the RFU’S league structure.
Stone will play in Midlands Five West (North) when the new season gets underway – and will embark on their new journey with firm foundations in place.
A whirlwind few months has seen them appoint former Longton and Stoke player Tom Hughes as head of senior rugby, as well as recruiting an abundance of new players.
Throw in the fact there’s big plans for the juniors and a healthy ladies section, and it’s easy to see why there’s plenty of excitement enveloping the club.
“I did a bit for them last year,” said Hughes. “I was registered with Stoke, but I could play the odd game for Stone because they weren’t in a league.
“I enjoyed it. We started to do quite well in the Merit Table and I’ve ended up as head of senior rugby.
“Last season the aim was to fulfil all of the fixtures, which we did – and that hasn’t been the case in the past.
“Once we had done that we could look to go in to a league.”
Hughes has been working away to strengthen Stone’s playing resources for their league challenge.
And he admits that there could well be scope to field more than one side moving forward.
“There’s been times when you would need to find eight or 10 lads for a game, but we’ve recruited really well,” explained the 36-year-old.
“We’ve got 55 players for the season. We’re looking at potentially getting two teams out, with one of them being in the league.
“Stone have always been happy to be a local, friendly club, so we’re hoping this is not going to be a big ask to move in to league rugby.
“We don’t want to lose the identity.
“We’ve had a meeting with the lads and they have all bought in to what we’d like to achieve.”
Stone will face the likes of Atherstone, Bloxwich, Cannock and Stourport when the league is allowed to start.
And Hughes is confident that Stone’s players will rise to the occasion when the first whistle blows.
“Some of the sides we played last year were second XVs and some first XVs, and I think the standard will be pretty similar,” added Hughes.
“We think we can be competitive. Last year we stuck 100 points on Burntwood seconds and introduced some new ideas to the players.
“If we get the commitment from the lads, which I’m sure we will, we will be fine.
“It also helps that we’ve brought in Nick Dermott as team manager and that assists in putting structures in place.”
There’s also been plenty of work put in to training schedules, as well as other areas of the club.
Hughes’ wife, Gemma, is running the ladies team, which has already seen a good uptake in interested players.
“There’s a new committee in place and hopefully with some of the money the club received from selling the old ground, we’ll be able to build a new clubhouse,” said Hughes.
“We’re also going to have eight junior sides, so for me it’s a nice little project.
“It’s part of the transition from playing to the sidelines. I will still have to play this season perhaps, but it will probably be a bit different to playing at level five and feeling as though you’ve been hit by a truck.
“I’m really excited by what is happening and hopefully we can move forward.”
Stone, like every other rugby club, will be waiting to see when they are given the green light to train and, then, play.
The new season is due to start in September, but the coronavirus pandemic is certain to push that date back.
“We’ve got to plan as though the season is going to start on time,” said Hughes.
“Personally, I think it will be after Christmas before the league is up and running.
“My best guess would be that everyone will play each other once and then it will be pot luck as to whether you get to play a side at home or away.”