Paul Doran Jones moved to Rosslyn Park after quitting professional rugby but a win on Friday against Richmond would keep alive the former England prop’s chances of making an unwitting return towards the top.
Rosslyn Park sit second in National League 1 – rugby union’s third tier – ten points behind leaders and south west London rivals Richmond in the battle for promotion to the Championship.
Richmond are heavy favourites to bounce straight back up after being relegated last year but face a Park side who have already beaten them once this season.
Doran Jones, 34, thinks the 18-13 win at Richmond in November will give his side belief, despite last weekend’s 24-21 defeat to third-placed Chinnor.
He said: “On our day we are good enough to beat anyone in the league and we have shown that at times. Unfortunately on the weekend we didn’t manage the conditions and they were atrocious.
“It’s an exciting game this week. It is still all to play for, I can see sides slipping up – it is that sort of league – you can’t take any result for granted.
“We beat Richmond away but they are going to come here and fancy themselves on what is a better surface and under the Friday night lights as well which is always fun.”
The more relaxed feel to rugby at this level is something that Doran Jones has taken to.
He said: “It was a proper game at Richmond, decent crowd, good atmosphere, and a good few beers afterwards. Hopefully it will be a good advert for the league.”
The allure of a place in the Championship is not what it once was after the RFU’s decision to dramatically cut funding for clubs in the second tier.
In February the game’s governing body announced funding for Championship clubs would be slashed by almost 50% to £288,000 per team for next season.
Doran Jones said: “I think it’s a massive shame for the sport because the Championship has been a breeding ground for young talent, giving them a shop window and a chance to get experience.”
Part of the RFU’s rationale behind the cuts is their belief Premiership academies, rather than Championship clubs, are proving to be a more effective pathway to the top of the game for players and coaches.
Doran Jones added: “I have experienced the Championship and Premiership academies and both have pros and cons. But for me playing week in, week out is what anyone wants to do and you need to be playing for your development.
“There have been a lot of success stories that have come out of the Championship and National 1 and it would be a shame if those guys can’t afford to ply their trade properly. I think it’s a negative for the sport.”
The former Gloucester and Wasps forward combines two training sessions a week and weekend matches for Park with a new career in property development.
Doran Jones said: “I got involved in a couple of sites in Gloucester – where I played most of my rugby – we recently got planning for student apartments in the town centre.
“It’s a fantastic business but there’s very little in the way of cash flow so that’s where this [being semi-pro at Rosslyn Park] is another big benefit to me.”
After stepping away from full-time rugby a couple of years ago – after a number of injuries and a decline in form – Doran Jones initially had no plans to get back playing but now could not be more complimentary about life at Rosslyn Park.
He said: “A couple of good friends of mine – guys I used to play with – Jordan Turner Hall and John Mills were coaching here and invited me down before I was cajoled into playing.
“I was quite reluctant at the start but I am so glad I did because it has given me a new look at rugby and a better appreciation and more balanced outlook.
“One of the great things about this place is the community side of it. It really hasn’t been sterilised by professionalism. It is grassroots and organic. Everyone mucks in, we have the minis, the netball team and all the kids come and roll around on the 4G.”
Friday night’s derby – the sides are separated by less than three miles – is not the only big match in south west London this weekend.
Doran Jones, who won seven caps for England, will watch Eddie Jones’ side play Wales at Twickenham on Saturday in the Six Nations but for now his focus is fully on Richmond.
He said: “I’m excited for it. We’ve got to put a performance on and hopefully we are able to do that. We will be giving it our all and we have got a few little tricks up our sleeve, so let’s see how we go.”