Vikings retain National 2 East status, Raiders and Warriors promoted
The Club headed into the close season in buoyant mood, the Vikings retaining
National 2 East status whilst the Raiders second successive promotion took them into
Eastern Counties 1. There was sadness too with the coaching duo of James Knight and Ryan Oakes leaving, the former to further his career at Gresham’s School, the latter moving to Australia. Both will be sorely missed having been at Scottow a long time; each started in the Youth & Minis progressing onto the Vikings as players, then becoming Player/ Coaches overseeing two successive promotions taking the Club back into the National Leagues after 15 years, putting it amongst the top 80 sides in England. A new Director of Rugby will be announced shortly.
“Challenging…. learnt a lot…..squad can be very proud, kept improving,” were
Ryan’s first thoughts on the Vikings’ 2022 – 23 season when they finished twelfth in
the 14 team league, three ahead of Rochford relegated alongside Westcliff. That
improvement was evident in points gathered,15 in the first half of the season
including three victories, 28 in the second winning five. Bonus points – awarded for
scoring four tries and/or losing by seven or less – proved elusive: the Vikings gathered
11, whereas Rochford (5 wins) got 18 and Sevenoaks (6), who also went into their
final match threatened by relegation, 16. That partly reflected the team’s mentality,
“always looked for the win” said Ryan.
Against champions Blackheath at home and second placed Barnes away they eschewed opportunities to kick penalties that could have resulted in a losing bonus point, preferring to seek tries and a win. At Bury, the season’s second game, they got back to 31 – 27 with a minute left, decided to go for the win rather than settle for the bonus point but made a mistake and conceded a try. The step up in standards in the higher league was immediately clear, fewer mistakes and those were ruthlessly punished, faster pace, quicker decision making, “couldn’t afford any part of your game to be malfunctioning,” commented Ryan. After losing 10 matches in three seasons the Vikings found themselves in a relegation fight, not winning until their fifth match, stunning Henley. It was clear early which teams were
going to struggle and it was unfortunate the Westcliff, Sevenoaks and Rochford
fixtures were scheduled for the second and fourth quarters, the latter two late on. They
did the double over all three, winning the key games. The fixture list did them no
favours, four games against top six sides in March an example.
Their resilience meant three bonus points in March, and they entered April needing
two victories. That month’s three games provided real drama. With the last play at
Sevenoaks Charlie Fethney made an astonishing run from his own line leading to
Matt Hodgson kicking a 40 metre penalty via an upright for a 24 – 23 win. Then
Rochford at home; all seemed well at 24 – 0 after 22 minutes but 40 minutes later it
was 24 – 28 before a converted try gave the Vikings victory. They began the match at
Canterbury needing a point to be sure of staying up: target achieved with four tries
within 21 minutes.
Every player gave his all, but mention must be made of Player of the Season Hodgson
who had another outstanding campaign and could clearly grace the game at a higher
level. Meanwhile Chris Godwin retired after 19 years/306 games: great player, great
Clubman. As always opportunities were given to young players including George Loose, Alfie Coop, Billy Tait (all recent Colts), Russell Arnold and Ed Briscoe who
joined from local clubs and UEA’s Lucas Atherton and Connor Dudley.
There were Boardroom changes. Ian Fox became Chair, Seb Anthony Rugby
Operations Director, Simon Rossi joined the Board, all ex-players with business
backgrounds. “The Club is in great shape and the Board has a clear vision of how to
develop it further,” commented Ian Fox.