Saints Wheelchair Rugby were last weekend crowned WR5s Championship winners, closing out competitive action in 2021 in style with another four wins to bounce back into the Premiership at the first time of asking.
During the pandemic, a restructuring of the WR5s saw the Premiership division reduced to just five sides, meaning Saints Wheelchair Rugby found themselves tackling the Championship this term.
But Northampton’s team did not let that setback affect them and earned promotion in style, losing just one game out of 12 throughout their campaign and returning to the top tier of British wheelchair rugby.
Saints locked horns with Coventry Stampede, Endeavour Punishers, Team Solent Sharks and Northeast Barbarians over the course of the season, with a single loss to Sharks the only blemish on the side’s copybook.
On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, head coach Jamie Higgins reflects on another fantastic campaign for Saints Wheelchair Rugby....
Higgins: It has been a great season again for us. For the side to come back and play so competitively after a two-year break around the pandemic is a huge credit to the players. I don’t like to focus on Covid too much, but a lot of our players had to shield in the height of the pandemic, so for them coming back into Wheelchair Rugby was a huge boost to their physical and mental wellbeing and it’s so pleasing to have seen that much-needed social interaction translate into wins on the court.
After finishing sixth out of eight teams in the Premiership in 2019, we knew as a Club that we had what it took to compete at that level, against more experienced, seasoned sides – despite having only been formed back in 2017.
But with the restructure over the pandemic we found ourselves back in the Championship; I can’t deny that the drop back down had an effect on us as a team, a lot of the players were very disappointed. But I was also massively impressed with the instant fight that was evident within the side, determined immediately to attack the 2021 season with confidence and secure that Premiership place on merit.
That first weekend of matches saw us head straight to the top of the Championship table as we won four from four games. But even with the confidence from those wins, we knew that the season was going to be anything but a walk in the park and the side continued to train hard for the coming games.
It was clear to see that the other teams had us pinned as the side to beat by the time the second weekend of games came around. October’s competition still held some brilliant results for us, but there were some mixed emotions from the side on our performances and our first – and only – loss of the season came against Solent Sharks.
But we arrived confident to the Finals weekend in November; we knew what we had to do to earn promotion and we had learned not to underestimate our opposition. I never had any doubts about the passion the team would show and when they posted a confident 19-9 win over Barbarians in the first clash of the day, I knew we were on the right path to promotion.
A second win of the day came against Endeavour Punishers, but we were made to wait until the afternoon to face our main rivals in the title race, Solent Sharks. It was so pleasing to see all the errors from the loss in October made right; and, giving Sharks no space on court and maintaining constant pressure, we secured the title with the 25-7 victory.
The team were jubilant as we went into that last match, but the competition was not over, and the side wanted to end the day unbeaten as we rounded it off against Coventry. It was, by far, our most challenging match of the tournament, but our experience and hard work paid off on court and saw us claim a 23-14 win to seal the Championship league title.
While we’re still celebrating last Sunday’s triumph, we’re already looking ahead to the 2022 season, and we’re determined to prove ourselves at that level too. We’ve taken great strides since our sixth-place Premiership finish in 2019 and I’m confident the side have improved on the court. Gerry will remain on as captain and his drive and competitiveness continues to inspire his teammates and create a great team ethos.
We’ll also be joined once again by Team GB player Danny Dawoud and our own junior talent player Kascie Higgins next season; the duo will bring some great experience to the side, but ultimately the whole Club’s focus on our upward trajectory stretches from our volunteers and support staff to our junior side to our senior athletes.
2022 will be another exciting year for the side and I’m looking forward to seeing us compete at the top level again!