JULY - Students union and a return of the Mack
The close season was dominated by the announcement of a ground-breaking five-year partnership between Old Elthamians and St Mary’s University, set up to identify and attract talented young rugby union players from across the country to the club’s Academy which would allow them to study at the University and also be part of the Men’s Rugby Performance Programme (MRPP).
USA Sevens coach Mike Friday was appointed Academy Director, overseeing two outstanding coaches in former England, Gloucester and London Irish scrum-half Pete Richards and ex-Northampton and Wasps fly-half James Brooks - respectively Head Coach and Assistant Coach of St Mary’s Men’s 1st team.
The first four beneficiaries of the scholarships provided by the St Mary’s/Old Elthamians partnership were exciting 19-year-old prospects, prop Bobby Bratton, winger Aaron Grandidier, fly-half Oli Hobman and centre Ciaran McGann (all pictured above).
“I am really excited about this partnership and creating a different type of focused Academy which will allow us to develop players holistically,” Friday said. “I am a firm believer that if we seek to develop the person then we will develop a better rugby player. Having been around the USA collegiate system, I’m convinced there is a place for that approach in the sporting development system in rugby here in the UK.
“Too often players, while chasing their rugby dream, have not focused on developing themselves which is to their detriment in the long term and also can leave them without ‘plan B’ should their career in rugby not work out or once rugby is over.”
OEs DoR Gavin Lach said: “Kent’s never had a professional team and the long-term aim is to move higher up the rugby ladder. We’re hoping to change the rugby landscape and our academy is a big part of that.”
If the Academy was set up with eyes firmly set on the long term development of the club, then the appointment of a new senior club chairman signalled the end of a memorable era.
Nick Burne decided to step down from the role after an amazing 21 years at the helm, during which time he had overseen the most successful period in the club’s 107-year history as OEs rose from the lower reaches of Kent Division Two. His replacement was club stalwart John Mack, who returned to the role he held before Burne’s tenure.
It was a welcome return for Mack who had held virtually every position in his 45-year association with the club. A player for 22 years after arriving at Foxbury in 1973, he captained all four senior teams at various stages of his career and also coached the club’s Colts side and various OEs junior sides.
“It’s a real honour to be asked to take on the role I performed all those years ago at a club that has played such a massive and important role in my life,” Mack said. “It’s 21 years since I was chairman and it’s fair to say a lot has changed since then! They were the days when the sponge bucket was red with blood and the shirts were still on the dressing room floor from the week before!
“The staggering progress this club has made in the last few years is something I never thought I’d ever see in my lifetime so to be part of that moving forward and to be able to contribute in any way I can is fantastic.”
Updated 09:04 - 2 Jan 2019 by Jon Edwards