Player Perspectives from the OWRFC
With the 2019/20 season kicking off this weekend, rugby clubs all over the country will be making the same kind of final preparations as they do this time every year.
For the Old Wimbledonians, however, an unfamiliar challenge lies ahead, and the First XV squad is heading into this 2019/20 league campaign with a number of new faces in key leadership positions.
The End of an Era for the Old Wimbledonians
The Annual General Meeting which took place at the end of last season had a noticeable ‘changing of the guard’ feeling to it, as the club bid an emotional farewell to its First XV Captain Rory Southgate, who is looking forward to a well-deserved reduced playing schedule after leading the side for three consecutive years.
Long-serving Chairman and club legend Richard Brayne-Nicholls is also taking on a lighter load after around 20 years at the helm, transitioning into the position of Fixture Secretary on the committee. The OWs can’t thank either of them enough for their time and efforts.
But with change comes excitement, as some younger faces and fresh ideas are given the opportunity to thrive, driven by very capable replacements. An interview with the club’s new Chairman will be coming soon, but for now let’s hear from James Howell, the man who will lead the side out this season as First XV Captain.
James played rugby as a schoolboy at Donhead and went straight into the A-Team when he joined Wimbledon College in 2005. He went on tours to Scotland, Canada, and South Africa with the College, and was fortunate enough to win the big derby against Kings at Fortress Coombe Lane whilst playing in the school First XV during sixth-form.
We asked James what he thought about the crucial link between Wimbledon College and the Old Wimbledonians, and he explained:
“I think it’s massively important to keep that link strong. Despite being open to anyone and everyone, the OWs has always relied on a large contingent of College boys coming through and playing rugby here, whether that’s straight from school or after they’ve finished university. It’s essential we maintain and build on this relationship to keep young players involved, and of course now we have the Warriors which is an additional opportunity for College kids to stay engaged with the club.”
It should come as no surprise then that James made his debut for the OWs First XV while still at university, showing maturity beyond his years in a tough away fixture to Battersea Ironsides, who won the league that season.
Of course, a debut is just one game, so what was it about the OWs that kept him coming back?
“One of the best things about this club is that, when I first joined after university, I already knew a lot of guys from the year above and two years above me who were playing in the First XV. They encouraged me to come along and made it really easy to integrate into the squad. The rugby was of a great standard and since then I’ve never looked back, making some close friends along the way. There’s a unique loyalty down at the OWs, not only to the club but to each other, and that’s brilliant to be a part of.”
That was a while ago now, and James has since been one of the first names on the team sheet for the past four seasons. Naturally, then, when Rory decided to step down as captain, James was an obvious choice to take over, but it came as a surprise for him.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he claims. “I was asked if I’d be interested in the position after the last game of last season, but it came as a big shock. Needless to say, I was more than happy to accept being captain, and leading the First XV will be a real privilege, especially for a such a fantastic club and a talented group of players.”
So, what does the new captain expect from the coming season?
“This season is all about bouncing back from a really tough and disappointing league campaign last year, where injuries got the better of our squad depth. Towards the end of the season we put in some strong performances against teams much higher up the table than us and were very unlucky to just miss out on a few wins. That tells me there’s a lot of fight in this squad and plenty to build on moving forward. If we can bring that into this 2019/20 season and take a few more of our chances – turning attack into points – I have no doubt we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
As a final note, we asked James what advice he has for the talented young players coming through the Warriors system hoping to join the senior squad in the next few years.
“The main thing is always just to enjoy your rugby and keep playing. We’re one club, so always feel free to come and have a chat to any of the senior guys, whether after a match on Saturday, or if you’d like to get involved with training on Tuesdays then you’re more than welcome.”
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