Saturday September 3 2016
Richmond v Jersey
@ Richmond Athletic Ground
Greene King IPA Championship
Apparently there were 47,029 at the London Double Header at Twickenham on Saturday. There were somewhat fewer – 893 – at the Richmond Athletic Ground to see Richmond take on Jersey on the season’s opener of the rather grandly named Greene King IPA Championship.
It was quite an achievement for Richmond even to be competing at this level, for the story of Richmond RFC in recent years reads as one of the most eye-catching comebacks in any sport.
When rugby union went professional in 1995 Richmond were a third division club. They were bought by financial markets trader Ashley Levett, who turned them into a professional team and imported some big names via his cheque book. Ben Clarke from Bath was the first £1million rugby signing. The club even switched grounds to the Madejski in Reading.
By 1999 Levett had had enough of watching his money disappear and got out, virtually overnight. The professional Richmond club and London Scottish were both forcibly merged into London Irish. This period of considerable uncertainty resulted in many of the professional players leaving the club pre-merger. And so the amateur club was reformed in 2000, and they joined the leagues as an amateur club at the bottom of the pyramid. The club climbed through the leagues until the end of the 2015 /16 season, when they achieved a further promotion into the Greene King IPA Championship.
However, they start 2016/17 as most pundits favourites for relegation. All the players are part-time, and survival is the number one aim. But their captain, Will Warden, has been quoted as saying: “I’m not scared of going out and losing 22 games. I’m scared of going out there and losing the club we have got.”
Richmond began their campaign at home to Jersey, a club content it seems to dwell in mid-table safety. So a 41-16 reversal at home might point to a tough season for Richmond. The London side held their own in the first half but could not force a way over the Jersey line. Rob Kirby’s three penalties were all they had to show for their efforts, while Jersey made the best of the little possession they had with two tries. Richmond trailed only 10-9 at the break, but Jersey were far more accurate in the second half and five more tries sealed a bonus-point win.
Richmond boss Steve Hill was adamant his side belonged in tier two. “We were very competitive and we didn’t look like we shouldn’t be in this league “he said afterwards.
But you do wonder if by staying semi-professional Richmond have already condemned themselves to an early return to National league 1.