Clubs hit out at 'poaching'

Two of Norfolk's leading rugby union clubs have hit out at North Walsham's plans to go semi-professional - and continue what they believe is the “poaching” of their top players.

Two of Norfolk's leading rugby union clubs have hit out at North Walsham's plans to go semi-professional - and continue what they believe is the “poaching” of their top players.

Wymondham and Diss - who are both coming off the back of one of their best-ever seasons - have fallen to victim to Walsham's recruitment policy in recent years, and believe the trend is likely to continue.

Senior Vikings coaches have said they wanted to rebuild bridges with local clubs while providing another step up the rugby ladder for their best players.

But Wymondham and Diss have responded with a very firm “thanks, but no thanks” message.

Ironically, Walsham's new-look coaching set-up is being led by Nick Greenhall and Tim Malone - who both helped Wymondham to the best campaign in their history last season when they swept all before them in winning both league and cup at first and second XV levels. Diss celebrated 50 years by winning promotion from London Three North East to London Two North.

“It appears that North Walsham are sadly about to embark on their five-yearly cycle of resolving their own internal issues by placing themselves on a pedestal as the only club that Norfolk players should aspire to play for,” said Wymondham's director of rugby, Andy Lyle.

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“This has been an unsuccessful year for North Walsham and it appears that they are seeking to address their problems not in a responsible or sustainable fashion, but to the detriment of local clubs, especially those that might be thought by North Walsham to be threatening their perceived pre-eminence.”

Lyle points to the continued growth and success of youth teams from the under-13s to under-19s and mini rugby, from under-six to under-12 level as a sign of their development of players.

“That in our opinion is the sustainable and responsible way forward for an ambitious rugby club in Norfolk to proceed,” he said.

“In the current rugby climate, we believe there needs to be three or four successful clubs in Norfolk if we are truly aspirational as a county in developing rugby football.

“If North Walsham repeat their previous route to addressing decline they will only alienate themselves from the excellent work that is being undertaken by the other clubs in the county - and certainly not 'build bridges' which they acknowledge their approach has damaged.

“The players and volunteers at these rival successful clubs have perhaps a more modern approach to developing the game and if North Walsham is not prepared to communicate with its partner clubs as an equal and feel that paying players is their only option without dialogue they may well find themselves standing alone without support of other clubs in the county. How would that serve Norfolk rugby?”

Diss are equally unimpressed by Walsham's views, and point to the likes of England international Dan Hipkiss as proof that they are capable of pointing players in the best direction.

“We are a club going forward,” said president Jimmy Butler. “We haven't got to stop and regroup. We will continue to bring our young players forward. We do not have the policy of poaching the best players from other clubs either by offering money or so-called better rugby. We believe in there being more than one good club in the county and like local players to play and train locally.

“Our coaching staff and director of rugby have come from within the club and is recognized as being very, very good, which is why we gained promotion this year with only two players coming back to Diss from either a sabbatical or playing for another club - 95pc of our team that won the play-offs was home bred by us.

“Five years ago we were in London Two North and we had five players poached from our club and we were subsequently relegated.

“We rebuilt our teams drawing players from our excellent youth section, young players that we have helped to develop into the very good players that they are today.

“Of the five players who left only one has secured a place with Bedford on professional terms and I would be the first to wish him well with his career.

“Here at Diss if we have any players with professional status capabilities we actively encourage them forward directly from us, as has been proven with Dan Hipkiss of Leicester and England and James Winterbottom of Wasps and England youth.

“There is only one league between Diss and any other club in the county and if we are able to keep our players we could actually gain promotion again and be in that London One league this time next year.”