2019/20 Season review – 1st XV

Date: 09 April 2020

Preston Grasshoppers 150 vs 0 Covid 19

Well, the season celebrating the 150th year of the club that was planned to include special events to mark the occasion certainly didn’t foresee the most dramatic one.

It’s ironic that having survived one hundred and fifty years of playing, through two World Wars, austerity, Foot and Mouth, Mad Cow disease several changes of address, etc., the actual landmark season was brought to an early end by something none of us expected (‘No, not the Spanish Inquisition!’). Because of this I think it is important not to lose sight of the positives of the year.

Arnie summed things up in his recent interview,

“In August, we were looking at bettering the seventh placed-finish we achieved in 2018/19, but we have just had the most injury hit season.”

Yes, we have all heard and said that since the turn of the year and some may be thinking that it’s become an excuse for what has happened, but a good squad that achieved so much in the previous season does not become a bad squad overnight. With sixteen first team players, including the entire front row, on the mid to long term injury list for the better part of the season, it is doubtful that any club could emulate the achievements of the previous year.

In the light of that we should perhaps turn our attention to what was achieved this year.

If we look at the results table it’s easy to focus on the lengthy list of losses but the other results should not be dismissed.

Yes, the two wins against Scunthorpe who, having only just managed promotion and, by their own admission, did not see themselves staying in the league, were expected. Nevertheless they were both five point games.

The narrow victory over Sheffield Tigers showed determination to see out a game, something that has been a weakness in so many matches in recent seasons.

Beating Stourbridge, a strong side that finished seventh when the programme ended, again showed the measure of the players.

And who says drawn matches are boring?!!

Some may say the tie with Wharfedale only came about because of the lengthy period played after the clock was in the red, but the visitors on that occasion had to work desperately hard to secure their points.

The same cannot be said of the nil – nil draw at Otley. In atrocious conditions where, after less than a quarter of the match gone it was impossible to tell one mud-soaked side from the other, we were treated to a classic ‘Old School’ rugby game, possibly the most entertaining of the year despite it being PJ’s last one.

There were also positives to be taken from the losses.

Despite the lack of points there has never been a game where the players gave up. Even when just one point was out of sight they kept on battling and giving us hope.

Oddly though, the injury list has brought some positives of its own. As Arnie has said,


“We have been blooding quite a lot of young lads looking ahead to next season so we have got a good young squad there that might not be ready for National Two, however, in North Premier, they will gain some good experience to come back the year after, so finishing towards the top of that league will definitely be the aim.”


And we have seen players coming into the first XV from the Seconds who have performed well enough to keep a place in the side. New players have added to the squad in various areas and as a result of the inevitable relegation and the curtailing of the season, the coaches have been able to start planning for next year much earlier than would be expected to bring on a squad that will be ready for a return in the future to whatever tier the RFU’s restructured pattern dictates.

The recent news that Sale Sharks and Scotland winger, Byron McGuigan is to join the coaching staff is another positive which can only help develop the performance and ambition of what is a young set of players. To be in a squad at a club with a playing international on the coaching team has got to be inspirational.

Let’s not forget the team behind the team too.

It cannot be over emphasised what a frustrating struggle it has been for all the staff. At times it seemed that just when one key player returned from injury, another was felled and they’re back to square one. In a ‘normal’ season changes, for whatever reason, are to be expected either through injury, unavailability or new personnel. But these would usually involve only one or two players at a time.

Throughout this season the coaches have had to wrestle with preparing totally different groups of players almost every week, sometimes having to make significant changes at the eleventh hour because of late injuries sustained in training. Without the consistency of the important groups of players in the squad, so vital to the confidence and fluidity of the team, it’s a wonder they achieved anything at all.

‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’ and it would be folly to look back through rose coloured glasses at the promotional season when we only lost one game. However, the potential of the present squad cannot be underestimated and a return to the upper tier in one season is a truly achievable goal. Whilst most would probably agree that they are perhaps not up to National 2 level, they are better than Northern Premier.

As always, it is vitally important that the members and supporters get behind all the players at every level in the club. Yes, what the first team do is a showcase but let’s not forget that it is only a part of what is a truly great club, one that has lasted for one hundred and fifty years, producing players of all ages from the very mini-est to major internationals.

The new season is not too far away, if we can eradicate the present Chinese import, and we should welcome re-acquainting ourselves with the clubs we shall meet next year.

Let’s look at this disappointing season as a slate wiped clean. One hundred and fifty years ago we could only move upwards and by a twist of fate, we find ourselves in a similar position.

So let’s celebrate by looking forward and creating another hundred and fifty years of entertaining and successful rugby at all levels. This is a great club with a great future.

Here’s to the new season.

Look after yourselves and stay healthy.

John Le Page

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