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Thurston Rugby Club bounce back from Covid-19 hibernation with best ever season featuring two promotions and two Suffolk Cups



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With rugby being one of the sports hit hardest by Covid-19 restrictions and people’s own protective measures, many clubs up and down the country have struggled to re-emerge with the number of players they previously carried.

But that was not the case at Thurston Rangers who have bounced back with the club’s most successful ever season – with their first and second teams both lifting county cups, as well as celebrating historic promotions.

The first team, captained by Ed Balham, achieved a fourth-placed finish out of 10 sides in the Level 8 London 3 Eastern Counties table along with lifting the Suffolk RFU rebranded competition’s top tier: the Suffolk Gold Cup.

Thurston Rugby Cub celebrate with the inaugural Suffolk Rugby Gold Cup which was presented by now deceased Eastern Counties RFU president John Winders (far right) Picture: Thurston RUFC
Thurston Rugby Cub celebrate with the inaugural Suffolk Rugby Gold Cup which was presented by now deceased Eastern Counties RFU president John Winders (far right) Picture: Thurston RUFC

A major RFU restructuring of the pyramid for 2022/23 means the side have been promoted into the new Level 7 Counties 1 Eastern Counties division. It will feature the likes of Level 4 Bury St Edmunds’ second string along with first teams from Diss and Southwold as well as West Norfolk.

One of the club’s longest-serving senior players, Ollie Paxman, dropped down to captain the second team this season and led them to the runners-up spot in the Level 10 Eastern Counties Division Two South as well as Suffolk Silver Cup success.

It all came in a campaign which saw both sides wear shirts with black armbands to honour the memory of their president Harvey Atkinson. Described as a ‘ big character’ at the club, he passed away during the pandemic, so never got to see the club’s glorious return.

Thurston Rugby Club II were the first winners of the Suffolk Rugby Silver Cup after a dramatic victory at opponents Mersea Island Picture: Thurston RUFC
Thurston Rugby Club II were the first winners of the Suffolk Rugby Silver Cup after a dramatic victory at opponents Mersea Island Picture: Thurston RUFC

His successor as president, Andrew Speed, said: “It was a fantastic season culminating in two trophies and the best league performances in the club’s history.

“The club celebrates its 50th anniversary in two years and we are proud of our reputation as a social and welcoming club, enjoying the game on and off the pitch!”

It was this strong social bond that Paxman – who joined the club back in 2001 – feels was responsible for seeing the club re-emerge from its playing hibernation in such strong shape.

“I think there are a couple of things,” said the 40-year-old. “Doing a relay run during the pandemic started off just trying to get people out doing a run but it served to really pull people together.

“We ended up having 52 people joining in and it carried on from that when we could start training again in sixes.

“Our coaches worked out a really good way of doing that and were putting on varied sessions to keep people interested.

“It ended up attracting new players as well.”

The Thurston Rangers Rainbow Relay Run saw 52 players cover 180 miles on May 2, 2020 under the first national lockdown’s individual exercise rules, as they joined up their local villages and Bury itself. It was all done for a good cause with West Suffolk Hospital benefitting from close to £20,000.

Back on the pitch two years on and the same players were enjoying the fruits of their hard graft in those seemingly never-ending training or touch rugby-only days, with two cups wins to celebrate.

But it was again their team spirit which had to shine brightly through in both finals.

At their own Robinson Field venue on April 30, they were significantly trailing on the scoreboard at half-time against Ipswich YM but a rousing second-half display was capped by a winning score in the dying minutes to seal a 24-21 success.

The second team had to go over to face a hosting Mersea Island side in their Silver Cup final the following weekend, who had gone through the season unbeaten to pip them to their league title.

It proved to be an epic with Thurston leading until five minutes to go when a late converted try edged them 18-14 ahead.

But that team spirit came through for the west Suffolk side once again as they rallied with Ballam eventually getting the ball down in the corner. The conversion was missed but it mattered little as Rangers held out for a memorable 19-18 victory.

With the village and the immediate area in which it is situated rapidly expanding with several recently-built developments, the club is now well placed to grasp the golden opportunity of going from strength to strength.