Hedgehogs are going up

Hitchin Rugby Club are on their way back up to the London leagues. Their promotion from Herts/Middlesex One has been confirmed following last season s demotion. With one of the youngest first teams in the county, the Hedgehogs have focused on the developm

Hitchin Rugby Club are on their way back up to the London leagues.

Their promotion from Herts/Middlesex One has been confirmed following last season's demotion.

With one of the youngest first teams in the county, the Hedgehogs have focused on the development of young talent within the club and that decision has paid dividends.

After losing four of their first five games, Hitchin went on an unbeaten 16-game run that saw them rise up the table to finish third.

With the introduction of RFU coach David Marshall, the club set out from the start to develop younger players.

Club chairman Peter Tasko said: "David joined us from Ampthill at the beginning of the season and was very keen to restructure the current coaching regime.

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"Hitchin cannot compete in a lot of areas with the other local big clubs in the leagues in certain areas but in youth development we aim to be number one.

"This season we have seen an average age of 21 years old playing for the first XV, with some as young as 17 seeing first XV action. It certainly makes the future look bright."

Tasko continued: "We are the first club in the county, as well as one of the few nationally, to develop specific RFU player pathways for our younger members.

"We have started a player mentoring scheme for selected younger players in the club.

"It means that they will be appointed a specific coach for the coming season who will help them develop their own game.

"Gym membership, sponsored by the club, along with an individual fitness coach, allows for them to take their game to the next level."

Added input to the scheme is also coming from Bedford Blues and Cambridge RFC (national one and national two respectively).

Nutritional advice along with video analysis and position specific coaching will all be part of the package and will be part of the RFU support received.

Marshall, the coach behind the scheme, added: "The future of the game, and Hitchin Rugby Club, is currently playing within the junior ranks of many clubs across the county.

"We need to be able to give these players specific pathways into the higher levels of the game.

"The plan is to work with identified players throughout the year(s) to develop all aspects of their game and then to secure them places at senior level clubs.

"The players selected so far - prop Sean McGinnity and loose forward Nick Panton - both have the potential to play significantly higher than Hitchin's current league status, and it is our role to encourage these players and open the doors for them.

"In order for this to become an ongoing scheme it also means that we have had to restructure some of the coaching set up.

"We now have the senior colts (under-19s) regularly training with the first XV and occasionally take the junior colts (under-17s), once they have reached that critical 17-year-old age bracket.

"It also means that there needs to be a significant input by senior players on the coaching at under-16 and under-15 level in order to prepare the players.

"The scheme is open to all identified players within the club but is obviously limited to the availability of the mentors."

The current mentors are Richard Stidolph (ex-Bedford Blues) and Jim Panter (ex-Leicester Academy).

In addition to his work with the RFU and Hitchin, Marshall will also be coaching Herts under-20s and Herts under-23s next season.

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