WITH all grassroots league rugby put on ice until the turn of the New Year at the very earliest, the Island’s big three clubs are doing whatever they can to keep their players positive during the pandemic and prepare to hit the ground running once up and running again.

The RFU handed the sport a devastating blow when they announced league competitions had been delayed again — all part of the government’s latest move to curb the latest spike in coronavirus cases.

With rugby stalling on Stage D of the RFU’s roadmap towards the return of competitive 15-a-side, it is an understandable worry it may erode the momentum of interest in a sport on the up before Covid struck.

Sandown and Shanklin first team skipper, Sam Flux, said: “There is frustration when you see what stage other sports are at, such as football.

“Yet, we’re making the most of the situation, where possible. As can be expected, some players are frustrated at being unable to play, but the fact we can train and play to a particular level is at least better than being locked down like we were earlier in the year.”

Each club has tried to take positives from being mothballed, be it a chance to improve many of the fundamental skills of the game to organising events and sprucing up clubhouses.

The Hurricanes built a new balcony and organised several Ready 4 Rugby touch tournaments, to provide a safe format of rugby between teams.

Their Oktoberfest event against Ryde School was a success, with other events planned for the Halloween weekend, with IW featuring.

IW is planning its own such event for the end of November.

The Island’s players and staff, in preparation, spent time recently giving their clubhouse at Wootton Rec a good clear out.

One thing the Island clubs have in common is their dedication to training.

Ventnor stepped up their training regime — working hard on tackling, rucking and line-out drills under revised RFU guidelines.

Sandown continue to train, with 20 on average taking part each weekly session.

“We’re keeping the sessions fresh, interesting and game relevant. Once we have a definite restart date, we’ll train twice a week again,” added Sam.

IW already run twice-weekly sessions, with good numbers attending

Kieran Leahy, of IW, said: “Our coaches have done a super job in keeping sessions varied and competitive. The lads are naturally competitive anyway.

Keeping players positive is as big a challenge as running a club under the strain of Covid-19.

Sam continued: “Back in March, when last season was curtailed, I said I couldn’t see us playing until next year. Now that date is looming ever closer, I’m sceptical we’ll be playing in a league by then.

“But we remain positive and enthusiastic about what the future brings.”

Ed was upbeat about how the club and squad have handled the situation.

“The players are in very good spirits. This situation has brought us together closer than ever,” he said.

Kieran, of IW, said the players remain cheerful, but conceded keeping up the positive mood had been a worry to the club with the lack of competition.

“It was a concern inactivity might see players drift away from the sport, but this is not the case so far.

“Of course, the uncertainty about when rugby might return fully is a worry.

“The return to action might be a little different to what we’re used to. Players may have to accept trade-offs, such as modified scrums to guarantee a quicker re-start to competition. We’ll have to wait and see.”

The pandemic has been a financial sting to all clubs, especially with the loss of income at their clubhouses, so the continued support of members, sponsorship and gaining RFU grants have proved a vital lifeline.

“Like most businesses and people, the club hasn’t been immune to the economic effects of the pandemic,” said Sam.

“We are fortunate our membership is supportive and dynamic enough to aid the club and we thank our new sponsors Wightfibre.”

Ventnor chairman, Ed Blake, said he was delighted with the position the club is in, but warned: “We are currently in the middle of a giant poker game in terms of competing for players and sponsors until the rugby season is underway again.

“Things are very delicately placed, so it’s my duty to make sure the club is in the best place to succeed in the post-Covid era.

“That puts us directly in competition with the other two clubs.”

For IW, “prudent financial management over a number of years means the club is not in imminent trouble,” said Kieran.

“It’s pleasing our members have remained faithful to the club, despite the long break from action.

“The whole Covid situation has made us realise how much we love rugby and the social side of the sport. It will never be taken for granted when it returns.”