Round-up of the season so far
As we hurtle towards Christmas and a very short break from rugby, I thought that this might be a good time to reflect on the first half of the 2021-22 season - it's been challenging at times, but a lot of fun!
Here are some of the highlights:
Covid, travel & Sussex fixtures
One of the things we can all be really proud of is the way that we are now truly ‘learning to live with Covid.’ It’s easy to say but trickier to put into practice, however looking around at training and at our travelling groups week after week I think we are pretty much nailing it! It has been quite a journey to get to this point and sometimes we get thrown a curve-ball, such as last weekend when delayed PCR results on Monday morning meant many players were late for school, or when Guernsey tightened up their regulations making trips to our sister Island impossible (but not the other way around – hmmm). But overall we are getting back to normal by giving our older members the chance to compete regularly in Sussex and represent our Club and Island, which they all do brilliantly, week in, week out.
The pandemic meant there was no travel at all last season, so both U12s and U13s have enjoyed their first taste of the Sussex waterfall competition this year. Both are currently unbeaten, but can expect stiffer opposition in January when the pools of teams are rearranged for Round 2.
U14s started their season with a thrilling draw against Edenbridge, but lost their next 2 games. Their last fixture, against our good friends Heathfield & Waldron, had to be cut short when one of the opposing players suffered a nasty injury. Thankfully, he is now on the mend.
U15s have one win and one loss to date, with a combination of Covid and weather having disrupted their Sussex season so far.
U16s are unbeaten in their league, including a 52-5 home win against Seaford in November. Home games are relatively rare for our players and this performance was highly appreciated by the large, vocal crowd who turned up to support the boys on the day. Also deserving of a mention in U16s is Jayjay Mason, who was successful in recent County trials and will now go forward to represent Sussex. This is a huge achievement and I know the whole U16 coaching team are very proud of him.
Colts scored a notable victory over old rivals Horsham in October, followed by two narrow defeats at Pulborough and Worthing. They are back in league action in January and will start their Sussex Colts Cup campaign in February.
Lions, Warriors and training with Eddie
Last season had barely finished when the prospect of a British & Irish Lions training camp sparked huge excitement and interest in rugby across the Island. The M&Js were asked to give the Lions a warm welcome when they arrived at their hotel and we certainly did that with flags, cheering and some very noisy cowbells. The tourists were clearly surprised and delighted, and we got loads of positive feedback with the Lions sharing their own clips of the event across social media. Having been told that (due to Covid) there would be no interaction with the players it was a treat when Alun Wyn Jones and Louis Rees-Zammit came out to talk to the M&Js – from a distance! They told us that they had been blown away by the warmth of the welcome from our enthusiastic young players.
Our U13s kept up their fitness in the off-season by taking part in Parkrun (in their rugby kit) on Saturday mornings. Volunteers lent a hand to clear out the containers and I was able to hand over a large amount of surplus rugby kit to the Rugby Recycled charity, who will transport and distribute it to schools and junior rugby clubs in South Africa, where it will be given a new lease of life.
Over the summer we also teamed up with Strive Academy for a Girls Inner Warrior rugby camp and a training session with ex-Lion Rory Best. Former Girls Squad players Izzy Culnane and Hannah Le Moignan made their senior debut in a Jersey Reds Women pre-season game in August, and it was great to see former Colt Harry Doolan taking the field for the Jersey Reds. We also launched our new website and much-improved membership portal.
Training started in earnest in September, with our U15s, U16s and Colts attending Strength and Conditioning sessions at Strive for the first time. At the other end of the spectrum, we welcomed a brand-new batch of Under 6s, who are already learning new skills at the very start of their rugby careers.
As we all know, Covid has been affecting supply chains all over the world and there were some delays in getting new training kit to the Island at the start of the season. Undeterred, our volunteers have been working hard running a weekly ‘Swap Shop’ for outgrown rugby clothing and boots. With parents making voluntary donations for second-hand kit, we have raised over £600 to date for the Inclusion Fund. Happily, most of the M&Js branded kit has now arrived at JSSK and we will be re-stocking the M&Js shop in the New Year.
In October we partnered with the NSPCC to promote Parents in Sport Week and highlight the role of parents in keeping children safe in sport. Our junior players and coaches had the chance to get close to their heroes again when England visited for a training camp ahead of their Autumn International series. As well as a public training session attended by many of our members, our U15s, U16s and Colts had the privilege of training with Eddie Jones and the England coaching team, an incredible opportunity which they won’t forget for a long time (now available to watch on Jersey Reds TV).
Our amazing volunteers
I wanted to say a word about M&Js volunteers - it might seem to a casual observer that coaches and other volunteers simply turn up to training on a Sunday morning but it is so much more than that! I’m frequently amazed by the dedication of our volunteers who put in a huge amount of time and effort behind the scenes to ensure our young people get the most out of rugby. This includes coaches, squad managers, first aiders, committee members and the many parents and carers who regularly help out.
Training and development for volunteers is hugely important, and since the beginning of the season we have run RFU training courses in Emergency First Aid in Rugby Union, Safeguarding, Introduction to Tag and Introduction to Contact. This programme will continue next year with further RFU courses focusing on scrummaging, lineout, refereeing and the 3-day England Rugby Coaching Award.
We have strengthened our volunteer cohort this season with 2 new appointments: firstly Jenny Leigh, one of our First Aiders, has taken on the mammoth task of Volunteer Coordinator and is already improving our record-keeping and the way we support our volunteers. Jenny was also responsible for recycling old guard of honour flags into face-masks and the brilliant Christmas stockings, which were raffled last week and raised over £500 for Diabetes Jersey – a charity which we decided to support as it has looked after one of our young members and his family. Secondly, we are really lucky to have secured the services of former Colt Mike Kenealy as M&Js photographer – he has already produced some great work which you may have seen in the JEP.
Thanks to our generous Sponsors
Just as the M&Js needs volunteers, we could not operate without the generous support we receive from our sponsors. Santander International are our primary sponsor, along with Saltgate (Colts sponsor), Dandara, KPMG, Kleinwort Hambros, Carey Olsen, Ronez and Ports of Jersey. We are also extremely grateful for the assistance offered to us by Jersey Sport. To all our sponsors, our sincere thanks, we simply could not do what we do without your financial and practical support.
Looking ahead, it’s likely we will welcome more visiting teams to the Island in the second half of the season. Stuart Dixon-Smith, Fixtures Coordinator, is currently speaking to around 15 Clubs and schools who have either confirmed fixtures or are actively looking to organise tours to Jersey in 2022. Hopefully, after a 3-year break, we will all travel to Guernsey for Junior Siam on 23rd April.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone involved in the M&Js, our friends and supporters, a Merry Christmas and here’s to plenty more rugby in 2022!
Minis & Juniors Chair