Adam Hathaway recommends a trip to Richmond, or anywhere outside the Premiership, because they still play rugby there and contrasts it with events in Coventry on Saturday.
On Good Friday, RugbySpy got on the rattler to Richmond to report on London Irish’s attempt to seal promotion back to the Premiership at the Athletic Ground.
You didn’t need a crystal ball to know what would happen and, after the hosts impertinently took a 7-0 lead early on, Irish cruised to a 46-7, eight-try, win.
But it was like looking at rugby from two ends of a telescope and who is to say which view is the best?
It was all over by half-time but everyone was having a laugh, most of those laughing were London Irish fans, but the Richmond followers were having a ball too.
And why not? This is a club that gave us Chris Ralston, a 1974 British & Irish Lion, centre Nick Preston, a 1980 Grand Slam winner with England, and Dyne Fenton Smith, a lock, who went on the first officially sanctioned British Isles tour, to South Africa in 1910.
Those glory days have gone and the chances of a player having Richmond next to his name in an England programme in the near future are more than remote.
The win gave the Exiles a place in the top flight with a week to spare but if you haven’t been to a Championship game recently, go to one next weekend which is the last round of the season.
Friday was a great day out and it was like going back in time to the good old days. But you know what? This stuff goes on every week even if the odds are stacked against some of the teams.
Irish who were relegated from the Premiership two years ago are still full-time and had about 900 people in their post match photograph which shows the difference between the two ends of the Championship.
Richmond are part-time, and proud of it, and when their players go to work this week it won’t be for a massage, an isotonic drink and a team meeting full of spreadsheets and videos, it will be to sit behind a desk in the City or do another proper job elsewhere. Some of them have even got a life away from the early morning pre-office gym sessions and training on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Hartbury’s 43-22 win over London Scottish on Saturday ensured that Richmond will be relegated to National One next season but the club is in rude health.
Yes the will lose some RFU funding but if the crowds in the bars, and the queues in the brilliant canteen, were anything to go by on Friday they won’t be short of a few quid. And they have been sponsored by Gallagher for years before the company got involved in the Premiership.
And they know not to get too hot under the collar up about not being in the top flight.
For those of us with long memories, the sight of John Kingston, the former Richmond coach back in the day, in the stands was a reminder of what went on when the game went professional.
In 1996 Richmond were bought by a financial trader called Ashley Levett who then started getting in some big names players such as Ben Clarke, the England back rower, Agustin Pichot, the Argentinean scrum-half now a big noise in World Rugby and the Welsh genius Allan Bateman.
Richmond were in the third tier then but Levett had big ideas, the club started playing at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, and it all duly went belly-up.
By 1999 the club were in administration and Kingston was pulling his hair out. Subsequently they, and London Scottish, were merged with, yep you guessed it, London Irish. The big guns left and the amateur club was reformed in 2000 but they had to start at the bottom of the league pyramid.
And their journey since has not been too bad, they have had a taste of the big time and frankly decided you can stuff it.
And Friday’s events showed the reason why.
Richmond claimed a crowd of 2,743 but we reckon there were more than that there and everyone was having a top afternoon although the weather did help boost the attendance.
The old stand was still there, and buzzing, and there were punters all around the ground enjoying a good old-fashioned day out at the rugby.
Beers, burgers and sausages were even reasonably priced and incredibly the Wi-Fi in the press box worked. Premiership clubs take note.
Not every national newspaper was represented, which was a shame, but four or five were and it took us back in time to when we covered lower league stuff, the County Championship and even the Hospitals’ Cup. And it proved there is more to rugby life than the Premiership and the Test stuff.
Declan Kidney, the London Irish coach who took over in March of last season, has been around the block and he is a fan of tier two despite his garlanded career.
Kidney won the 2009 Grand Slam with Ireland, the year he was named World Coach of the Year and took Munster to a couple of European Cups in 2006 and 2008.
He has coached Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and the rest of them yet here he was on the pitch after the match telling us how much he had enjoyed life in the Championship.
That included trips to Nottingham, Doncaster, Bedford, Doncaster, Coventy, Cornish Pirates, Yorkshire Carnegie and the rest when the so-called big dogs can get a serious kicking.
But Kidney loved every minute.
“Because it is a winner take all league every team played well against us and it was like every match was a cup final for the opposition we were playing,” Kidney told us. “This is like getting to base camp.
“I have loved the Championship. It was brilliant. Real rugby, fantastic people keeping everything going. The main reason we have been promoted comes down to the generosity of our owner Mick Crossan. He could have given up so easily after two relegations in three years. He stuck with us, we had a sizeable squad and great facilities when not all the other clubs would have had those resources, so we are very grateful.”
Kidney then regaled us with the tale of how drinking in the Coventry clubhouse post-match earlier in the season had meant he slept the entire bus journey back to London. Just because it is old school does not mean it is not fun.
The London Irish chief executive Brian Facer made all the right noises for a bloke who runs a club who have just been promoted. They are moving into a new stadium in Brentford in 15 months and need to stay in the Premiership next season so he told us they don’t just want to survive in the Premiership, they want to be top bananas and good luck with that.
But if Irish are looking upwards there is nothing wrong with some clubs looking sideways and staying in the Championship, or lower, if that fits their needs.
And just because it is not the absolute top end of rugby does not mean it can’t be exciting and it can’t be a giggle.
Give it a go, you might just enjoy yourselves.
The day after the Richmond outing RugbySpy was in Coventry for the Champions Cup semi-final between Saracens and Munster which the Londoners won 32-16.
We have decent seats at the Ricoh Arena when you can hear every collision in full effect and there were plenty going on on Saturday. Some of it was frightening.
And we could hear every cat call that Owen Farrell, when he was kicking for goal, and Billy Vunipola got. We also saw the bloke run on the pitch at the end of the game and try and have a crack at Vunipola presumably because of the social media storm we wrote about last week.
Some proper Munster fans apparently tried to hush the boo boys, so fair play to them, and most admitted their team got beaten fair and square to set up a final between the two best teams in Europe. And that probably includes teams in the Six Nations.
Sarries would beat most international teams if they played like that. Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Liam Williams, Owen Farrell and Vunipola and all the other rock stars were bang on the money against a tough as teak Munster side. Leinster did a similar job against Toulouse. So 11 May in Newcastle is going to be like a Monsters of Rock gig.
It is just a shame there were not more people there to witness event in Coventry. As we reported the transport links were a shambles with Euston station shut and good luck to any Spurs fans who tried to get to Manchester the same day for a 12.30pm kick off. And it was Easter apparently.
They managed to cobble together an attendance of 16,325 which meant the ground was less than half-full and most of the Munster fans were still partying when we left the ground.
But it was a shame the good people there had to witness the witless abuse of players, especially Farrell who as far as we know would rather stick pins in his eyes than get involved in a social media storm.