It is fair to say that season 15/16 was a very successful one. It is certainly true to say that it was a hugely enjoyable one right across the Club and that is what we all want – fun and enjoyment as a reward for all the hard work from hundreds of dedicated volunteers, players, coaches and parents. As the rugby landscape changes, particularly as the 1st team climb the ladder, we all need to remember that, at Sevenoaks Rugby, we do this for fun and for our leisure!

The One Club philosophy is alive and in extremely good health at our club and we will work tirelessly to maintain this. As I have repeatedly said in public, the 1st team captain is no more, or less, important than the little charges in our Under 6s and everyone has a place in our Club.

That having been said, it would be too politically correct to leave the plaudits for our wonderful 1st XV til last so let me offer the club’s huge and collective congratulations to the boys in the 1s who gained promotion back to London and South East 1, through a nail biting playoff victory over London Cornish at the Paddock. The win was the culmination of a massive amount of hard work from all concerned and it all began way back in July at Sevenoaks school when pre-season training began.

On their journey they overcame some seriously good teams and it is a mark of how far we have come when the crowd at the Paddock were getting restless before the boys nailed the bonus point win against Old Colfeians – it wasn’t that long ago when we would have been smashed by clubs like Colfes and Beckenham but we did the double over both of them. T Wells were the only side who pulled away from us and, despite “running on empty” towards the end of the season, our young side made it over the line and the planning for season 16/17 began, literally, the next day. Winning the Flanders 10s tournament (and the off field shenanigans that went with it) was the icing on the cake for the boys.

No season review can be complete, however, without thanking our departing Head Coach Danny Vaughan and wishing him well in his ongoing, stellar, rugby career. Danny took over when the Oaks 1s were struggling and relegation from 2 South East looked a certainty. Over the last 5 years, ably supported by Jon Muchmore as the 1s Manager, he turned the ship around and promotion is his just reward – thanks for everything Danny, you will always be the most welcome man at Sevenoaks Rugby Club.

Success in the league ensured we qualified for the Kent Shield final (most cup games were doubled up league games) but as this took place the day after the playoff final we decided to field a young “1st XV” consisting of 3 tough blokes who had played the day before (take a bow messrs Sedgewick, Saunders and Tree), a squadron of uni boys and stalwarts from the 2s, ably led by indomitable skipper John Henley. The boys held Aylesford 1s to 5-7 at their one place until half time but finally ran out of gas and leaked a few tries towards the end.

The reason I highlight this performance, which was at times breath taking, is because the people who stood up to be counted were our 2nd XV and uni boys. The 2s have had a difficult season, in that they haven’t fielded the same XV on more than one occasion, and the chopping and changing nature of the squad has made it difficult for them to play at their best all the time. But when they have been at their best they have been superb, playing a brand of rugby that has left other older sides dead in the water. The 2s ended their season in a creditable mid table but what was more important was the platform the team gave for a number of our Academy players to show the coaches and management what they can do. Mike Walton and Ian Collins, the 2s managers, deserve special praise for the way they have managed and motivated this fine (massive) squad.

The same is true of Pip Woolacott with the 3s. In my opinion a sound 3rd team is essential to the success of any rugby club and ours have been excellent. With a more regular squad than the 2s the 3rd team have been able to achieve more consistency and their upper order ranking in their league reflected this. Some of the rugby that the boys played this season was of a level way higher than one would expect of a 3rd team but this is what we strive for at our club – excellence and fun! If the 2s were characterised by their young charges then, at times, the 3s were the polar opposite. On many occasions half the side were eligible to play for our wonderful Acorns side and these men doubled up all season, taking younger 3rd team sides to the cleaners whilst storming on, overcoming all comers in their own, Acorns, colours,

Anyone who has represented this team knows what a unique and privileged experience it is. Having had the honour of leading them in the past my pride at seeing the Acorns rise again to be dominant, was indescribable. And how dominant were they? Kent Champions and Flanders Finalist dominant is how! The Acorns cup final win over a strong T Wells brigade was immense and the standard, and pace, of the rugby played was amazing. It was also heart-warming to see some of my old compadres (Messrs Mortassagne, Emmins, Shirtcliff P, Thurnell and Kelly) rubbing shoulders with recent 1st team graduates like George Roffey and Mark Reay. T Wells were dispatched in a thrilling game and the party began!

I have said previously that the integration of our young players into the seniors is a central part of our rugby strategy and we estimate that we have used 26 Academy players in the 1s in the last 3 seasons, so our future looks rosy. The junior players at Oaks are at a standard which will see most of them capable of playing national league rugby as adults and this has been reflected in the outstanding performances of our Academy sides over the last 5 years. We have the national cup in our DNA and, whilst we haven’t quite managed to win it yet, we use this competition as our benchmark. This season the u17s and u18s fell by the narrowest of margins to the eventual winners Worthing and Brentwood respectively although the 17s made up, in part, for their hurt by lifting the Kent Cup for the 5th season in a row.

The Academy is all about improving the playing abilities of our young players and transitioning them to senior rugby and the improvement in the u16s is a fine case in point. A talented side with a big pack, the boys hadn’t quite fulfilled their potential until they came into the Academy, where new voices and processes seemed to energise them so much so that they held their nemesis side, Westcombe Park, to a 3-3 draw in the Kent semi-final before cruelly losing out on the toss of a coin.

Nevertheless the massive improvement in this squad bodes well for next season’s national competition tilt where they will be joined by a very useful side in this year’s u15s.
As we develop as a club we are rapidly integrating a playing and cultural strategy right across the club and with Adam Bowman as the new coaching supremo this will accelerate even further. The evidence of this can be seen in the way that our core junior sides (u13 to u15) have started to adopt and implement the “pattern” play that enables a side to build on a solid platform before unleashing its natural talents.

This was most evident with our u13s, a squad full of promise and ability but lacking that platform to play from. Having started the season with a few defeats the boys were struggling for motivation but a new way of playing and some new voices were introduced and they finished the season losing by 5 points to a strong T Wells team in the Kent final and we have huge expectations for this group going forward. The 14s and 15s both had decent seasons but suffered from a shortage of players at times due to school commitments (we are taking steps through our State Schools programme to remedy this in the future) but nonetheless both reached one of the Kent finals with the 14s winning their Bowl cup comfortably whilst the 15s had a tough day at the office against a very aggressive Bromley side. Both squads will improve significantly next season.

Girls’ rugby is only in its second season at the Paddock but the success that has been achieved by Tonya Williams and her coaches is nothing short of incredible. This season we fielded 13s and 15s squads and the younger girls took to rugby like a duck to water being unbeaten all season and lifting the Kent cup at the first time of asking. We are determined to build on the impressive start we have made with girls rugby at Oaks and we will invest more resource into this in the future. Our aim is to have our own women’s team in time but until we arrive at that place (and we will get there) we will continue to admire the flowing, but aggressive, style of rugby that our young charges demonstrate.

The mini section of our club is in the rudest of health (even if the huge numbers of players we have tests our coaching and physical structure to the limit) and we can expect to see the trophies keep flowing back to the Paddock through these superb young athletes and their excellent coaches. Whilst we don’t shy away from winning as one of our core beliefs it is important that players (whether they are at the begining or autumn of their careers) enjoy playing rugby and enjoy life at the Paddock, so it is with pride that I note that all of our head coaches in the minis adopt the system of giving everyone a go.

Only a tiny percentage of these children will go on to play at the highest level so for the vast majority what they experience at Oaks is what rugby is about to them and we aim to instil a life-long love of our wonderful game into these people. Nonetheless the players and their coaches are competitive beasts and the results that the minis have returned have been outstanding with dozens of festival trophies coming back to the club. There are too many excellent performances to mention them all but the success of the u11s, under Head Coach Steve Fitzmaurice and his colleagues, is nothing short of outstanding. With a huge number of wins under their squad belt they added the 1st and 3rd places in the Kent Cup finals and 1st in the Kent Development Cup  to their roll of honour!

So, it has been a wonderful season for all of our teams and we are already looking forward to the next one (although a short holiday can’t come soon enough for me!) but we need to remember that our club is about people and, whilst we celebrate the successes of Ben Earl, Jack Nay and Laurence Thresher, from our u18 squad, as they all experienced the joys of donning and England shirt this season (Ben and Jack have gone on to win professional contracts at Saracens), this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t say a few words about Phil Bradshaw.

As you know Phil passed way recently after a courageous fight against cancer, and we are still coming to terms with this…in a way I hope we never will. Phil was our President and, quite simply, a top bloke. I got to know him when I joined the management committee and, although I only knew him for a few years, I am proud to say he was my friend. He was a friend and father to the whole club and everyone will miss him like mad but Phil would have [chastised] me for leaving this note on a sad one. I know that Phil was a very happy man on the play off day win and his contented smile, for a job well done, is what we need to take with us. RIP Phil and just watch as your club, our One Club, goes from strength to strength in the future.

Roger McKerlie
Director of Rugby