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"It will be just as tough this year"

Different challenges await for Newbury Ladies this season, but a top-three finish is the aim, says coach Joe Harwood

Fiona Tomas

Fiona Tomas

fiona.tomas@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886639

"It will be just as tough this year – if not a bit tougher."

WITH a fresh coaching set-up and the absence of their main Berkshire rivals in their league, this season is already shaping up to be a lot different for Newbury Ladies RFC.

The Monks Lane side started their pre-season last week and excitement is building around what the club can achieve this year. 

Spurred on by their third-place finish in Championship South West 2 in May, ambition is not lacking in Joe Harwood’s side, who will be looking to emulate or better their achievement this time round.

Having watched their county rivals, Reading Abbey, clinch automatic promotion, the Ladies will be Berkshire’s only representative in the south-western league this year – the third tier of women’s rugby in the country.

With the two sides having played each other no less than six times over the past two seasons, Harwood believes it is a welcome break – but insists it won’t affect his squad’s goals.

“I don’t think it changes too much,” he said. “I think it will be quite nice for us and Abbey not to play each other actually.

“We’ve got to be aiming for at least what we did last year, which will be a challenge because of the players we’ve lost, but we have had contact with five or six new players.

“We’re aiming for third place, if not better.”

Last year, the team funded a memorable overseas league trip to island-team Guernsey, who have since been relegated.

But with new additions Plymouth Albion and Ellingham and Ringwood RFC, the team will once again be asked to play their rugby over a wide radius – against the backdrop of a new-look coaching outfit.

Having hung up her boots at the end of last season, former veteran scrum-half Jeannie Ivanov joins Harwood in the coaching set-up, along with the injured Nicki Pattern, who is continuing her rehab.

And Harwood is even welcoming his  twin brother – Will – into the mix, who will offer his services in the line-out department.

Club stalwart Meg Horwood is finally committing her rugby to Premier 15s outfit Wasps this season, having juggled her time between both Newbury and the London outfit last season.

It not only gives the club an incentive to go big on recruitment this summer, but build on what they already have.

Harwood said: “For us, it’s consolidation.

“I’m still convinced if we hadn’t had the injuries we had towards the end of last season, we would have gone up instead of Abbey.

“But we wish them all the best in their new league and representing womens' rugby in Berkshire at, currently, the highest level for a team in the county.

“I think it will be just as tough this year – if not a bit tougher because of the players we have lost.

“But it’s also incredibly exciting because it means other players have those opportunities and have to step up to the mark in order to achieve what we want to, although we still have to set our sights high.”

Newbury Ladies train on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Monks Lane, RG14 7HD, from 7.30-9pm.

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