League restructure sees Raiders move east

Raiders will be up against the fourth oldest rugby club in the world next season following the RFU’s restructuring of the leagues.

Guernsey Raiders, who are still savouring their back-to-back Siam Cup wins in which Anthony Armstrong (pictured) was man of the match both times, have found out who will be their league opponents for next season when they will play in National Two East. (Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 30846356)
Guernsey Raiders, who are still savouring their back-to-back Siam Cup wins in which Anthony Armstrong (pictured) was man of the match both times, have found out who will be their league opponents for next season when they will play in National Two East. (Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 30846356)

Guernsey remain in National Two, but the level now has three regional divisions rather than the previous two and they have been placed in the East division alongside many clubs well known to them but also a couple of new opponents including the famous Blackheath FC, founded in 1858 and notable for having players in the past such as England international Mickey Skinner as well as the fictional Dr Watson from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

‘Blackheath got relegated from National One this season and in National League terms, us playing against Blackheath is sort of like when Saracens got relegated and Jersey played against them,’ said Guernsey director of rugby Jordan Reynolds.

‘Earlier in the season when chatting to other clubs in our division, a guy from Worthing said “it’s incredible to think we could be playing Blackheath” and that’s turned out to be the case.

‘When the fixtures come out, it will be exciting to see when we are playing Blackheath, especially at home.’

North Walsham, based in Norfolk, are the other club new to Raiders in the East division.

‘They have risen up through the ranks in the last few seasons and from what I’ve heard they’ve got a pretty sizable pack, but we used to think we had a big pack until we got up to National Two,’ Reynolds said.

‘It will be a learning curve for some of these sides, but it’s a pretty well-balanced league.

‘Whenever you restructure it probably takes one or two years to balance out.’

Watch highlights from Guernsey Raiders' 2022 Spring Insure Siam Cup win at Footes Lane:

The revision of the adult male game in England has been described as ‘the most significant changes made to the competition structure in 30 years’ and has been designed following feedback from clubs and players.

There are four core principles from 2022-23 onwards. They are putting player welfare at the forefront of decisions, ensuring a high-quality player experience, supporting club sustainability and minimising travel.

It has seen all National League divisions reduced in size from 16 to 14 clubs, while regional leagues have been cut to 12 in a ‘flattening of the pyramid’.

Reynolds has always backed the changes.

‘There’s a lot to say for having rest weeks during the season when guys can go away for both some physical and mental relaxation and we are supposed to have two before Christmas and two after now.

‘One of the biggest factors for us, as a club, has been travel.

‘We had eight, maybe nine stay overs this season. You do not mind the odd one, but that was a lot and if you look at the expenditure, it is huge for the club.

‘If you can reduce that, it helps not only with the budget but also the players themselves because we have guys with families and if they know they can get back on the same day, it helps with their availability.’

With the restructuring, St Jacques Vikings have come out of the Shield league for reserve teams and been placed in Counties Three Hampshire.

Jersey’s amateur side are in Counties One Hampshire.

National Two East 2022-23

Barnes, Blackheath, Bury St Edmunds, Canterbury, Dorking, Guernsey Raiders, Henley, North Walsham, Old Albanians, Rochford Hundred, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge Juddians, Westcliff, Worthing.

Counties Three Hampshire 2022-23

Andover Two, Fareham Heathens, Gosport & Fareham, Havant Three, Isle of Wight, Locksheath Pumas, Overton, Portsmouth Two, Romsey, St Jacques Vikings, Winchester Two, Ventnor.

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