An open letter to all Club Players, Members, Staff & Stakeholders
There has been much speculation about the status of rugby at Burnage RFC in the last couple of years. The loss of as many as 65 players through retirement, relocation, long term injury or family commitments has had a devastating effect on our ability to consistently field three Senior Teams.
In addition, an imbalance the league structures we are currently competing in, have left us in the unenviable position of likely double relegation for our first and second team squads. With still 6 games to play, and the threat of exclusion for our seconds and thirds, if we are unable to fulfil all fixtures within that remaining period, also a possibility. This may yet put at risk our inclusion in the cup competitions at the end of this season, but that remains in the hands of our benevolent league masters!
It’s not great; but it is not the first time in our 87-year history we are faced with rebuilding, refocussing, and renewing our ambitions and love for our sport.
Change is inevitable and for us that inevitability means returning to the lower leagues from next season for our first and second team squads and with luck retention of our league position for the thirds.
The club respects and honours those players who continue to train hard and pull on the shirt every Saturday, to face up to often professionally paid opposition, and clubs on a different trajectory to our own currently. There is no criticism of our current players and the non-playing members and supporters of BRFC should stand firmly behind them, and new recruits, as we grow again in the future.
To this end it was also time to make a change to our coaching and team structures and Dave Muckalt, who has been our Head Coach and, recently DOR, since 2017, will be stepping down at the end of the current first team league season.
“Mucks’ leaves us with his head held high and our lasting friendship and gratitude after steering Burnage through the good times of building and promotion to the not so good periods of covid and the challenges of the current season. We wish him every success in his future.
This club and all its commercial activity and prowess exists to serve Rugby first!
We are not beholden to other sports organisations and yet we support many. We are not beholden to sub sections of our sports club, that seek to impose imbalance and a lack of rugby focus, as we see happen at so many other clubs. “We are rugby first and last and we will prevail.”
When we have had to rebuild previously, we have been fortunate to be able to call on heroes of the recent past to assist. As we look forward, we are fortunate to have and retain Chris Jones, going forward in our new plan. Chris will be staying on and adopt the role as Head of Rugby. His enthusiasm and love of Burnage is well established, and his Coaching Skills, Strength and Conditioning background and rugby network will continue to bring benefits as we head through 2023 and beyond.
However, the board and the committee felt that the task is too big for one man and as we restructure, we wanted to provide Chris with a strong support network on and around the field of play. To that end our professional physio and medical team will stay, as will our 1st and 2nd XV team management structure. Chloe Wisdell will continue to lead our medical staff and Adam Taher will remain in post for the first team, but Sean Spratling, who has done an amazing and sometimes thankless task as manager of the second team, will be taking a break from rugby and he goes with our thanks and gratitude for everything he has achieved as a player and manager at BRFC.
Consequently, we have sought to expand and build the coaching network from within, and we are delighted to announce that Stuart Oldham (just as Sam Jennings did some years before him) will be returning and joining in the role of Head Coach upon conclusion of the current league fixtures season. Stuart has proven himself a great Burnage asset, as a player, a captain, and a leader, for many years and we are delighted that he is meeting new challenges, with new enthusiasm in support of Chris Jones and all current players at the club.
Chris and Stuart will also be supported by Grant Connon in a supporting backs coach role, and we will be benefitting from an informal but valuable addition of guest coaches including Ralph Lawson as a forward’s coaching resource, who will further bolster the rebuilding from within.
The committee and the directors of Burnage RFC are not her to dictate how rugby is managed, but we did need to ensure that the structure is well founded and given every opportunity to flourish, by focusing players and coaches undoubted strengths on the field and the training grounds.
To maintain our focus on rugby and to improve communication generally throughout the club we are also delighted to announce the appointment of a new Director of Rugby. Martin Birkett will be meeting this challenge from the end of the current league fixture season.
Many of you will know Martin already, but how many really know his history?
A former professional rugby league player with Salford, he won the premiership in 1991, and laterally thereafter with Swinton, where after a long and successful playing career he ended as an assistant professional rugby league coach. His union credentials are just as impressive including England Schools, British Polytechnics. England Students, Cumbria Rugby Union. Harlequins, including tour of Far East & Australia – coached by Dick Best, London Division, Public School Wanderers. Port Hacking Rugby in Sydney, Australia, Fylde RUFC and finally Burnage RUFC, where as a player coach at the turn of the millennium, he led the climb up from the chip shop leagues to our current standings of recent years, developing players such as Sam Jennings, Tony Lynn, Jonny Scholes and many others. Please note that Martin was also the reason, Stuart Oldham joined BRFC and that turned out well for us too! Martin has also been a regular third team player in recent seasons, playing beyond the Rubicon of 50 years young!
Martin will be the conduit between our rugby and the club that supports it, assisting Chris, Stuart and all rugby stakeholders to rebuild with a real focus on “Readiness, Retention and Recruitment” as we develop, or find our stars of the future and that includes our own Academy development, as we inch ever closer to junior, intermediate and senior colts’ rugby again.
As what will seem a disappointing season for many, in March we may still have the opportunity to compete in multiple cup competitions across our three senior teams. Our new coaching structure will fully embrace this opportunity to get players refocused and ready for these competitions and for the closed season and pre-season period to be rugby ready for the 23/24 leagues, wherever we may find ourselves.
We hope all club players, members, staff, and stakeholders will embrace and support these changes and that we will return a stronger rugby club once again.
Steve Willock (Managing Director), Burnage RFC Limited
Dave Wrigley (Chairman), Burnage RFC