Towards the end of the previous academic year I enjoyed a few drinks at the KPA with Ethan, now 1 XV team captain of Keele Men’s Rugby Club. I found Ethan to be a very approachable, mature and driven person. Being very well read, his favourite book being ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius, he displayed a passion and interest in a wide breadth of topics ranging from economics to sustainability. He also was excited to start his new project in leading the rugby team into a new successful era both on and off the pitch. There was no doubt in my mind that the club was in good hands for the next 12 months. I caught up with Ethan at the start of pre-season to speak more about the season ahead.
AG: Hi Ethan, let’s start by you telling us a bit about yourself? What you’re doing at Keele and your career in rugby?
ER: Hi I’m Ethan, I’m 21 from Lancaster and going into my third year at Keele studying international business management. I came to Keele after taking a gap year where I did some travelling, worked and volunteered which was great for my personal development. I’ve played rugby since I was 4, where I’ve since played for six different clubs in the Lancashire/Cumbria area. When I was 14, I was called up to represent my county, Cumbria, where I was captain for two years. I then got taken on by Newcastle Falcons academy, where I then got the opportunity to play for the Scottish Exiles team. I now represent Keele men’s first team as their captain. I’ve played most of my career at fly-half, including currently in Keele’s team.
AG: Tell us about the rugby club. How many teams are there and what leagues do they play in?
ER: There are two teams that compete in the BUCS league and a further development team. The 1XV will be playing in BUCS’ Northern 2A League this season after previously being relegated from 1A. The 2XV play in the Northern 4A League. The development team provides any newcomers to the game a chance to develop and grow by getting 1:1 coaching with England RUFC coaches. The 3XV (development team) are integrated with the Newcastle-under-Lyme RC so they get game time.
AG: It’s been a tough couple of seasons for the club, what are your reflections on those years?
ER: So in the 2018/19 season, the 1XVs got promoted to Northern 1A, and then after that we let off the gas going into the 19/20 season. We lost several very good players which meant that we struggled to compete in that league and struggled to keep up with the strength and fitness it required. We also didn’t have a regular coaching team which wasn’t adequate when competing against the likes of Durham’s 2nds with four coaches at their disposal. It was great to get promoted, but when you get promoted, you really need to step things up which is not what we did. Can’t really reflect on the 20/21 season as that was cancelled due to COVID, but looking forward to hitting the ground running again after that break in rugby!
AG: What are the club’s goals on the pitch this season and how are you guys feeling about the season ahead?
ER: The committee and I feel very strongly about the 2XV’s ability to be promoted this season as we believe their standard is better than Northern 4A. We also believe that the 1XV can push for promotion back into 1A, at the very least achieve top 3 in that league. We plan to use individuals in the development squad a lot more in the 2XVs to create more competition for spaces and integrate the squads a lot more. We have worked hard to increase our relationship with Newcastle-under-Lyme Rugby Club, and the individuals not getting as much game time in our squads will play for them at the weekends.
Our ultimate bottom line is we want to win each week and we will work hard to achieve that. But I feel, and the committee is in agreement, that we want to create a fun and inclusive environment where everyone can enjoy their rugby and have a good time first and foremost. I feel there’s no point shouting and howling at people when they mess up; instead, I want to teach people how to improve their rugby whilst helping them to enjoy it. Our primary goal is to create a positive club atmosphere, and hopefully from that the good results will follow!
AG: What are the strengths in your current squad? Who is a player you’re most looking forward to watching this year?
ER: I believe we have a strong pack. We have some very well established forwards who bring their kilograms into play. In the backs we have some fantastic playmakers. We have a lot of talented scrum halves, which is good as they are usually very versatile so can fill in on the wings if needed. Sandeep Dhaliwal is one to look out for this season – he’s an outstanding play maker and likely to be playing 12 this season. I think he’ll provide a stable connection between the forwards in getting the ball out wide to the wings. I played with him a few times and he’s quite electric when he’s playing! On top of that he can read the game very well.
AG: What positions are you hoping to address in this year’s freshers recruitment?
ER: We’re really in need of a new front row! Ideally, we need around 4/5 new players to compete for the front row. A hooker is top of our lists, but we could do with a couple of new props for both the firsts and the seconds. Our other positions are looking solid now though! We’re looking forward to recruiting new freshers to the squad and increasing that competition, and hopefully get a few front rows to join us!
AG: What is the coaching structure for this academic year?
ER: We have decided to budget to pay for a coach this season as this will inevitably increase the standard of the club and help us push for promotion. This will provide the teams with more consistency and structure to help us achieve this. I’ve been in talks with Staffordshire County, and I now have a spreadsheet of names of coaches to call and I will pick the most suitable to take us forward this year. Until that is confirmed, myself and Andy (Vice-Captain) will be leading the coaching. We both have decent credentials: Andy has played for several academies, including Leicester and Northampton. We both have a lot of material we can use, and there is also a lot of Rugby IQ shared between the committee members. Whilst Andy and I will be leading the coaching, we are keen for the rest of the squad to pitch in with their own ideas, especially working on things that maybe didn’t go well on Wednesday (matchday).
AG: What is the weekly training plan looking like?
ER: Post pre-season, we’ll have training Monday, Friday and Sunday, with games being played on Wednesday afternoons. On Friday we’ll have a 30-minute fitness session followed by intense drills to address mistakes from the Wednesday. The Sunday will again be working on drills, and on Mondays will be working on gameplay by doing run-throughs so we’re well prepared for the next game on the Wednesday. We’re waiting on confirmation on strength and conditioning hours. All training will be arranged and coordinated on a new platform we are using called ‘Spond.’ This platform will allow players to see training plans and schedules and they will be able to indicate whether they can make training or not. This should make it easier for us to plan sessions because we will have one place where all rugby organisation takes place.
AG: Does the club have any plans off the field this year?
ER: As usual we’ll be participating in Movember and we’ll also have weekly socials throughout the year. We are also going to organise a day where we donate old boots to a charity that revamps them and sends them to individuals abroad who don’t have access to those resources.
AG: How can freshers join the club? What are the membership fees?
ER: Request to join the Facebook group, message myself or any of the committee, or visit us at the Fresher’s Fair. Membership fees, including the AU fee, will amount to less than £100 which is cheaper than previous years.
AG: What is your one piece of advice to new freshers joining Keele this year?
ER: Just get as involved as you can, whether that’s for a sports team, your course, or socialising!
Links for Keele Men’s Rugby Union: