Shingai Chiwanga explains why spirits are soaring in the culture created at Shelford Rugby Club
Shingai Chiwanga has praised the collective spirit that is being engendered at Shelford Rugby Club.
Having been part of the first-team set-up for more than 11 years, the 34-year-old back has seen highs and lows at the Davey Field – including the rise up to the National Leagues.
They had to hit the reset button after a tricky few years that has ended up with them in London League 1N, but Chiwanga has seen a culture shift at the club in the past year.
“It has much more of a community feel at the club,” said Chiwanga.
“Everyone sees that they are part of the bigger picture. It is not just the first team, but the twos, threes, fours, fives, youths, minis, women’s, girls – it’s much more of a collective.
“A lot of the main stalwarts have been here for years, they grew up here. They were youth and mini, they have worked their way into the first team, and it makes a big difference when you have got guys who have grown up here and guys who want to be here.
“Everyone feels like they are taking more responsibility personally as a result of that.
“It was always a great community club, but it feels like the community feel has been increased and heightened.
“I feel like there is a stronger link with everyone, like in all the different teams, than there was before. It’s nice that everyone is on board and buying into those processes as well.”
Director of rugby Will Cotterill has credited many of the changes as being player-led, with experienced heads such as club captain Charlie Baker, Chiwanga, Matt Gregerson, Will Lawson, Grant Anderson and Jamie Beswick.
But Chiwanga believes that is as a result of the responsibility placed on the squad.
“Will creates the environment where he wants more feedback from players, more feedback from the teams, and as a result of that it ends up being a bit more player-led because that feedback is coming to the fore,” he said.
“We are then developing things around it – what people like, what they don’t like, what they want to do, what they can do, what they can’t do.
“I think that leads to it in being a bit more player-led.”
It is interesting that there is such a pronounced change given the circumstances of the season.
The prolonged lockdown in the spring was followed by a gradual reintegration to training, but in October the RFU cancelled the league season. An alternative eastern cluster of games in 2021 has instead been proposed.
But you would always tend to associate a positive atmosphere within a club being a direct result of performances on the pitch – at Shelford it is the consequence of the culture being built.
“When you get on a winning run, you get that momentum, you get that spirit as well,” said Chiwanga.
“Everyone is gutted not to be playing, I’m not going to lie about that – nothing beats playing on a Saturday and regularly every weekend.
“But I feel like we’ve managed to make a really good situation from that negative.
“Everyone is getting on board in terms of keeping on top of things, keeping fitness levels up, keeping contact, training when we can.
“I’m really happy with how the morale has stayed high despite everything that has gone on.
“Guys want to play together, want to spend time together, and that makes a big difference now especially when we can’t be together, can’t train together as a group and can’t play the games, but everyone still gets involved with all the things we’re doing.”
Although there are some experienced heads in the Shelford ranks, they do also have a lot of young guns.
The focus when Cotterill took charge was to nurture a pathway through the youth ranks into the first team, and there are plenty of new faces in the 49-man playing squad this season.
It therefore falls upon the senior players to assist the transition of the youngsters.
“We’ve got a lot more younger players now which is good,” said Chiwanga.
“They are young quality players coming in so it’s a good progression but I do think we feel a bit more responsible in a way that the right ethos and mentality is being passed on.
“Having played the game for a while, we know what characteristics we think really help a team and I think that’s what the senior players are doing now in making sure we increase that and make sure it gets rewarded.
“We want players to be comfortable and confident.”
And there was good news for Chiwanga and his team-mates this week, with contact rugby given the green light to return, with adapted rules.