Juddians raise the bar once more

Caroline Kings takes a look back at Tonbridge Juddian’s recent history and sees why they are aiming for greater things this season.

Consolidation and anticipation seem to be common themes for Tonbridge Juddians first XV and women’s team, the TJ’s Pink Ladies (named after their sponsor Pink Lady apples) ahead of the new rugby season. Both teams have had an impressive few years, consistently winning promotion to higher leagues so as pre-season training ramps up, it seems the perfect time to catch up with the captains to hear their thoughts for the 2017/18 season ahead.

TJ’s Pink Ladies
Steph Rukin, the Pink Ladies’ captain, admits that the team has come a long way since it started as a ‘bit of fun’ a few years ago, just about scraping a team together. Impressively, they have been promoted twice, won the Kent Cup in the 2015/16 season and, after finishing a surprising second in the table last season, were offered promotion again; interestingly, they turned it down.

The promotion would have placed the team in the league below the women’s Premiership, pitting them against the likes of rugby stalwarts Saracens’ and Wasps’ second teams. So, why did they decline the promotion? And what does that mean for the forthcoming season?

TJ’s Pink Ladies

At the end of last season, their first in Championship 2, the team was pleasantly surprised at its final placing of second in the league. Whilst enjoying their success, the Pink Ladies and their committed coach, Bill Little took stock: they knew that some players were leaving – one notably transferring to play for Harlequins’ women’s team; they knew that they were perceived as a formidable team, one to be beaten; but they also knew that their success was slightly unexpected.

Aware that their squad doesn’t have the depth yet that they’d like, they decided to remain as a force to be reckoned with in Championship 2, consolidate and prove their position.

Brute force, speed and ‘massive tackles’ have helped them achieve success so far but Rukin acknowledges that this season the team will be thinking more tactically to hit their goal of a top third placing when the season ends. Some players have left, yes, but the team’s powerful reputation means that they can attract players too – Carly Walker (who has also been chosen to play for the British Police women’s rugby team) and Canadian, Danielle Leonard will be joining the team this season to face strong opposition from the likes of Hampstead and Old Albanians.

The TJ’s women are always on the lookout for fresh players to join their ranks. What does Rukin love about rugby? “The spirit of the game – tackling someone on the pitch but then helping them get up and enjoying a drink with them in the bar later; socialising with the team and making a new network of friends; and the stress relief! Rugby is a fantastic way to alleviate the stress of the week – a good run out and massive tackles!”

TJ’s first XV
TJ’s narrowly missed out on promotion in the 2015/16 season after losing to Barnstaple at The Slade. The team worked hard during the 2016/17 season to ensure that the team and its faithful supporters wouldn’t be disappointed again, securing promotion to National 2 South where they’ll face sides from as far as Cornwall and Leicestershire.

TJ’s first XV

Jon McMahon, vice-captain last season and elevated to captain this year, is optimistic about the season ahead and admits to being “quietly confident”: the strong coaching team behind the Firsts is preparing the team for a higher standard of play, emphasising the need for athleticism and speed as well as ensuring that pre-season training involves a great deal of skills based drills. McMahon has confidence in his squad too, none of which is from abroad this season; the team is experience heavy and player lead, allowing McMahon to concentrate on his own game confident that his team mates can take responsibility for themselves. Murray Galbraith-Lowe and Hugo Watson both played well last season and McMahon says they’re ones to watch this season too.

McMahon might be optimistic but he’s not complacent and understands the extent of the job ahead. “Two or three games could make all the difference. We need to change our mindset and not expect to win every week. We might be perceived by other teams in the league as an easy fixture and we can’t be despondent if we’re not at the top of the league. This season is about consolidation and staying up.”

Both the Firsts and the Pink Ladies are anticipating seasons of quality, consistent rugby to allow them to strengthen their positions in their respective leagues.

As the saying goes past performance isn’t necessarily a guarantee of future performance but at TJs, past performance is so strong that the club and supporters must be feeling positive. Here’s to a common theme of winning for both teams come September.

Tonbridge Juddians fixtures can be found on the club’s website at www.tjrfc.co.uk. The First XV’s first match at The Slade is on 9th September against Canterbury whereas the Pink Ladies’ first home match is on 10th September against Romford & Gidea Park.

By Caroline Kings (caroline@carolinekings.com)