Czechs Kick Off `Biggest Year Yet’ This Weekend

This weekend will see the Czech Rugby League’s First Division kick off when reigning champions Krupka Dragons host the Vrchlabi Mad Squirrels and last year’s runners-up, Slavia Hradec Kralove will take on Thhrudim Rabbitohs, who are buoyed by their success last weekend’s pre-season Nines. During the season the four clubs will play each other home and away twice.

“We want to create an elite top level competition with strict membership criteria,” explained founding board member and vice president, Iain Sellers, “which include a certain number of registered players, having qualified coaches and referees, running junior programmes, and operating with good governance and financial security. We demand a minimum of five out of the six criteria to be fully met with plans in place to close any gaps.”

The Second Division has been increased to seven clubs, and will be run on a tournament basis with each club hosting one other during the year. Those participating are former Czech champions Lokomotiva Beroun and Orli Havlickuv Brod; Mikulov Roosters, Black Angels Hodonin, Slavia Hradec Kralove ‘B’ and newcomers Jilemnice and Trutnov. The season kicks off in Havlickuv Brod on 15 April.

“We are very aware that we need a competitive lower-tier competition,” Sellers continued, “one which will allow both the existing clubs and those newly formed to play regularly, in a formal structure, but without the burden of having to play every fortnight as the First Division demands. We are confident that this tournament approach will satisfy that need, and it should also allow new clubs to develop organically, at their own pace.

“Every year, all Second Division clubs will have the opportunity to apply for elite membership and the Czech Rugby League board will assess each application, based upon the criteria agreed.”

The U18 Championship, which kicks off in May, will continue with just four sides; Krupka Dragons, Slavia Hradec Kralove, Orli Havlickuv Brod and Vrchlabi Mad Squirrels.

“Last year’s inaugural championship was a massive success for Czech Rugby League,” commented Czech national U18 coach Antonin Berk. “We know that it will become more competitive and be played at a higher level as the younger players get more game time. Youth development is a priority for us and we now have programmes running at most clubs between 6 and 18 years old.

“We will be running U15 full contact games too. In Prague, we now have seven clubs playing touch rugby at U9’s and nine clubs playing at U12’s. We are developing a gateway to get these kids playing full contact rugby league by U15 so it is going to be a busy year.”