No rugby? No problem – The Channel Islands rugby team swapping the oval ball for round ones in a bid to keep competing as a team

When sport resumed earlier this year, whether at amateur, semi professional or professional level the world returned to a little bit of normality.

For men and women up and down the country they could move about freely and played the sport they loved, something that had been taken away from them temporarily due to the Covid-19 crisis.

But when you’re based on a rock in the middle of the sea and all your away fixtures require a flight, things are a little bit trickier.

Jersey Reds Athletic, the amateur arm of the Jersey Reds professional rugby outfit in the Channel Islands ply their trade in the RFU English system.

However the dream of returning to the rugby field was dashed a few weeks ago when the new league season was suspended.

That, coupled with the fact that Jersey’s Government has put strict isolation rules in place for anyone returning to the Island, it has made overseas games near impossible.

But as we know rugby players are a tough and determined bunch and a suspended season and a virus wasn’t going to stop them getting together and competing as a team.

Even before the rugby season was put on hold, coach Myles Landick, a former professional himself, discussed the idea of forming an Athletic football team to plug the gap left by the oval ball.

Then the team was formed and so far, things have been going swimmingly well.

“Basically we had no games to play. We can’t go off Island to play, and the players we have are too strong for the other sides over here.

“So we talked about starting a football team with the squad, and we played a few friendlies in the summer.

“Then when the season got suspended we enquired about joining the one of the Island’s leagues, and the Jersey Football Association were brilliant in trying to help us.

“My dad, Steve, who sorts out all the fixtures for the teams was one of them, and it went to all committee meetings and I don’t think people were against it, but we would have had a lot of catching up to do.

“So instead of that, the JFA have put a full friendly fixture list together for us of about 19 games, which is great.

“The boys are loving it and it is going really well.”

Athletic in action in their first game – Picture by Sportscast Jersey/Daniel Andrade

Despite predominantly holding skills more tailored to the 15 man game, the Athletic players have been turning some heads in the Island’s football community already.

They’ve won more than they’ve lost, and enjoyed a 1-1 draw in their first game at their home ground in St Peter on Saturday.

As well as using the their new lease of life on the football pitch to keep fit while the rugby is on hold, Landick admitted the benefits stretch beyond those of a physical nature.

The former Jersey Reds player, who has previously talked about a bout of depression he suffered after injuries curtailed his professional career, added: “When you’re in a team environment that’s what you’re used to, its the same every Saturday you work hard for your mates, you have a few beers after, and you’re used to that.

“When that is taken away, and I’m not saying it has happened with any of our boys, but it can impact you mentally a bit.

“So as well as physically, having formed the team is helping is in other ways too.”

Athletic begin their run of organised friendlies this week and apart from a two week break at Christmas, they have a football fixture list ahead of them.

Landick, who has enjoyed playing competitive sport again after being on the sidelines as a coach in recent years, revealed the method of picking a football team full of rugby players.

“Like you’d think, you’ve predominantly got your bigger lads, the brutes at the back, then the centres for example in midfield, then you’re pacey lads up front.

“We’ve got a decent goalkeeper who has represented the Island before, and he’s been earning some plaudits.

“And people have been commenting on how we’ve been getting on and how well we’ve been playing, with the lads skills improving every week. A lot of them have played before.

“I’m getting texts all the time about arranging games but we won’t be able to fit them all in!”

As the old saying goes, “Football is a gentleman’s game played by ruffians, and rugby is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen.”

The teams were formed to replace the suspended RFU season

That might not be the case all the time but the contrast in the way footballers typically act in a game compared to rugby players has already been noticed by referees.

“The ref we had on Saturday sent an email out saying how much he enjoyed doing the game.

“He mentioned to other refs how it was nice they were being referred to as Sir by our guys.

“I suppose there is a difference. Whereas footballers may typically shout out when there’s a tackle before screaming at the ref, when our boys are tackled we just get up and get on with it.

“By doing that we’ve defused a few different incidents in games. And if one of the opposition players are moaning about a decision or a tackle, we just give it ‘come on mate get on with it’, but on the whole everything’s been okay.”

Landick also reveals that after Athletic’s first outing against St Clement, the players made to tone down their tackling in and around the box a little.

“We lost 8-2 and gave away three penalties, so I think a few lads thought twice about their tackling a bit.”

The rugby boys haven’t stopped at football though.

Back in the summer a large chunk of the side turned there hand to cricket, despite none of them having really played the game before.

They got to a T20 final, with the players teaming up with new side Chirpy’s Chiefs in the shorter form of the game.

Plans are now afoot for the same again next year, and possibly an entry into the 35 over league.

“The boys turned their hand to that as well. We played the Jersey Bulls football team in a game in the summer, and then the boys wanted to create or join a side.

“So we did that with the Chirpy’s Chiefs and joined with them and it’s been fantastic.

“We’re probably one of the few clubs around who’ve started with rugby and branched out to football and cricket!”

Despite the switch from the oval ball to the round ones, Landick warned his charges back in the summer that the main game wouldn’t be comprimised.

The side have still been training every week in preparation for the Siam Cup, the yearly showdown between the Island and rivals Guernsey.

Covid permitting the fierce neighbours will meet twice next year in a double header, with Landick and his side also focussed on that.

But as far as the present goes, the rugby players will continue to swap their big studs for smaller ones and the egg shaped ball for the round one.

But Landick’s next year year will be to get his players to put away the football shirts and pull out the rugby jerseys.

“They’re all enjoying it. We still train with the rugby because some of the boys don’t play football and don’t want to, so it is about everyone.

“With the football it has been difficult in games to get everyone on the pitch. Some boys don’t want to come off as they’re enjoying it that much.

“The job will be to get them off the football pitch and back onto the rugby one.”

Photos from Sportscast/Daniel Andrade

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