Talking Grassroots: Busy international schedule is encouraging

If anything suggests that we are truly coming out of the Covid-19 era, it’s the fact that there’s so much representative Rugby League taking place right now.

There’s plenty happening at professional level, of course, not least the match on Saturday between England and the Combined Nations All Stars as Shaun Wane continued his preparations for the World Cup, while the irrepressible John Kear once again took charge of Wales against France in Albi. 

This column’s about the amateur scene, though, and it’s grand to be able to reflect, and report on, so many games at different levels.

Last week, for example, the Wales women’s team hosted England in a stand-alone international and followed that up by entertaining Italy in the Women’s Euro B Championship.

Italy were beaten 30-6 by visitors Ireland nine days ago in the tournament opener on the same day that, more locally, West Wales accounted for East Wales 32-24 in a boys’ Under 16 Origin clash.

And, from an English (male) perspective, I’m delighted to be able to announce, this morning, the Under 17s squad that will play two Tests in France next month.

Then there’s Wheelchair Rugby League. England entertained France in Manchester in what could quite possibly turn out to be a dress rehearsal for the autumn’s World Cup final. And, the previous day, Ireland beat Scotland in Halifax in another wheelchair international.

Phew! It’s almost as though there’s an explosion of activity following the interminable lockdowns – and it doesn’t stop there, with the terrific news that Ukraine are to take part in the European Under 19 Championships in Italy in September. I’m sure that everyone involved in Rugby League will do their best in helping with fundraising, as revealed elsewhere in today’s issue, while Scotland have confirmed their Under 19 coaches ahead of the competition.

And, as I pen these notes, I’ve a nagging feeling that I might have overlooked an obvious match or two…

On a very localised level, meanwhile, the Castleford and Featherstone ARL may well go a step further this evening (Monday, June 20) in its plans to relaunch its representative side. 

Let’s hope that the coronavirus pandemic really is over (personally I doubt it, to be honest – sorry to strike a pessimistic note). If it is, there’s certainly plenty for ambitious amateur players to enjoy.

Less happily, there seems to be bother in Bath. I touched, recently, on how the grass roots game in the south and the south west is struggling a little to emerge from the lockdowns and I was recently alerted to a spat involving Bath Gladiators and Bristol All Golds, an issue which on the face of it appeared to be one of those little ‘local difficulties’ that any team sport can experience, but which hasn’t quite gone away. 

Bath alleged that the All Golds are ‘poaching’ players from other clubs in the region by offering match payments. And the Gladiators, as a consequence, refused to play Bristol on 21 May in the Southern Conference League’s West Division.

A month down the line, relations don’t seem to have improved, as those League Express readers who use Twitter will know. Suffice to say, at this stage, that the Rugby Football League and others I’ve spoken to strongly question, indeed refute, the majority, if not all, of Bath’s allegations.

It’s a saddening development, possibly nothing more than the localised wrangle you can get anywhere, in any team sport, and I really do hope that the RFL, which has some cracking personnel in place, can get a grip in the matter. More on this in next week’s issue, perhaps.

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