After years in the relative rugby wilderness Richmond are back where they belong after winning promotion to the Greene King IPA Championship and lock Will Warden is relishing the challenge.
While Richmond will come up against full-time outfits in the shape of London Irish and World Cup winners like New Zealander Ben Franks this season – the club has decided against signing professional players.
Richmond is still haunted by going into administration nearly 20 years ago and dropping to the ninth tier of English rugby and Warden admits they won’t be making the same mistakes again.
It’s all about the club ethos at Richmond and not just the 22 first team players who will ply their trade in the Championship, it’s also about the four or five senior side put out weekly, the thriving women’s set-up and the oversubscribed junior section.
And Warden, who is expecting the rugby challenge of his life as Richmond prepare to lock horns with Jersey in their season opener on September 3, is philosophical about what can be achieved.
“I am absolutely buzzing for the new season, we worked so hard to get this opportunity last season and now the whole club can’t wait to go out and show people what we can do,” he said, speaking at the Greene King IPA Championship season launch at the St Margaret’s Tavern in Twickenham.
“If you ask the supporters who used to watch Richmond in the 50s and 60s – they would say we are back to where we belong, we are back at a level the club should be performing in.
“It has been a hell of a journey to get into the Championship, there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way and as I said we worked extremely hard last season.
“It’s not just the players who featured for Richmond last season, it is everyone who has contributed to our success over the last four or five years – it has not just been achieved in one year.
“We have changed our model this year but there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainty – we can only do what we can because of our structure and time constraints.
“We all have full-time jobs, we all have to fit our rugby in around this, we don’t want to be the team who finishes 12th in the Championship but if that is what happens it is what it is.
“We won’t lose our club ethos and we won’t lose the importance of what makes Richmond the club it is.
“The club ethos is the most important part of this club, it’s not just about the 22 people who go out and feature for the first team, it’s also about the seconds, thirds, fourths, heavies, women’s teams, colts and minis – we build from the ground up and that is what is important.”
There’s no doubting Richmond will be at a disadvantage this season as they go head-to-head with relegated London Irish, a club that possesses former international names such as Kiwi Franks and utility back Shane Geraghty.
Richmond’s entire playing squad will be working full-time away from rugby, while their Championship rivals will be concentrating solely on rugby.
But Warden is refusing to be down heartened by the club’s ability to compete.
“It is obviously going to be a disadvantage not training full-time but the positives are we aren’t going to get stale, we aren’t going to just be concentrating on rugby,” he added.
“It’s important to have a balance in life, perhaps we’d like it weighted slightly more towards rugby being in a professional environment but we will have to do the best we can.
“I know all about the Championship, I was a graduate at Loughborough University and I had some friends who play in this league now and I know how good they were back in the day.
“I have obviously seen it on television, it looks physical, it looks like you’ll be going backwards if you can’t compete up front, it looks aggressive and physical in the backs and we will need to respond.”
Formed in 2009, the Greene King IPA Championship is the second tier of professional rugby in England. To keep up to date with the latest news, follow @ChampRugby on Twitter.