FOR frustrated clubs, players and fans across the Isle of Wight, the long wait is over — rugby’s back.

Today (Saturday) sees the start of the new season for the Island’s senior clubs, including a mouthwatering Hampshire 1 derby between the Isle of Wight and Ventnor, at Watcombe Bottom (kick off 3pm).

Sandown and Shanklin were due to kick off their London and South East Division Premier campaign with a tough fixture away at Bognor, but it was called off on Wednesday due to an issue of ‘ferry availability’.

Instead, their season will start with a home fixture against Gosport and Fareham next Saturday, September 25.

Isle of Wight County Press: The Hurricanes will be in action against Gosport & Fareham at Fairway park next Saturday in the London & SE Division Premier. FILEThe Hurricanes will be in action against Gosport & Fareham at Fairway park next Saturday in the London & SE Division Premier. FILE

Isle of Wight County Press:

The Hurricanes came fifth in the unfinished 2019-20 season — but are hoping to do better this time around. 

Club spokesman, George Adams, said: “Our teams are looking forward to getting back on the pitch and competing again.

“We have high hopes we can finish this season in a more commanding position.”

The derby match will prove a fascinating encounter, with the Wootton-based side winning their last battle 27-8 in December 2019.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Isle of Wight, who finished sixth the past two seasons, hope to build on the improvements they had made before Covid pulled down the shutters on rugby. 

Two of their successes, Lewis Murray and Grant Smith, have since moved on to other mainland clubs, but experienced players have returned, together with a clutch of newcomers to boost the first team ranks.

The side will be skippered jointly by Alex Augustus and Andrew Brown, who have bags of decent league experience under their belts.

“We’re delighted to be back on the field wearing the shirt again — and, of course, welcoming our supporters back,” said club secretary Kieran Leahy. 

Isle of Wight County Press:

“There has been a real buzz at the club in recent weeks, with entertaining pre-season games and the club’s social side picking up. 

“I don’t think we are particularly targeting specific league positions. Our aim remains to get two teams out each week and for everyone to enjoy themselves on and off the field.”

The club’s director of rugby, Dave Metcalfe, said the players worked hard in pre-season and that tactically, coaching staff have been able to look at different combinations.

“A local derby to start the season certainly whets the appetite,” said Dave.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Turning to youth, Ventnor have added six players to their squad — four of them aged under 20 — and had a good pre-season.

Club captain, Lewis Jones, said: “Rugby has been in a strange place since it stopped in March last year, but we’ve done our best to train within government guidelines. 

“Thankfully, we’ve been able to train relatively free of restrictions recently.

“We’ve had an influx of players in the off-season. I believe the huge gap without rugby has made people very keen to play again.

Isle of Wight County Press:

“In pre-season, we’ve focused on fitness and getting our bodies used to contact again, with physically gruelling drills. 

“The atmosphere at the club has been very positive, with everyone chomping at the bit to get stuck in.

“As for our first game of the season being a derby, what a fantastic thing for Island rugby.

“I hope many fans from both sides create the atmosphere we’ve been missing.”

Isle of Wight County Press:

With Sandown and Shanklin II finishing third in Hampshire 3 when Covid struck, they were promoted to Hampshire 2. They face Nomads at home on September 25.

Isle of Wight II were relegated from Hampshire 2, but are expected to do well this season in Hampshire 3 when they get their campaign underway at home to Alresford II next weekend.

In Hampshire 4, Ventnor II take a trip to play Chichester III next Saturday.

Vectis Rugby Club has been busy developing the youth side of the sport on the Isle of Wight following two disrupted seasons.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Club chairman, Emma Douglass, said: “We’re looking forward to getting back to training and playing matches. 

“With teams entered into the Hampshire leagues, I’m sure we’ll see some excellent rugby played by them. 

“For the first time in two seasons, Vectis are able to field an U17/18 team, while the Vectis Academy (the former Vectis Colts), are training at Ryde School in a new and exciting chapter, with coaches drawn from the three senior Island clubs.

"The future looks bright.”