Club link is start of the road back for Otley

Simon Willet, left, and Mark Ireland, right, have left Otley for Wharfedale and Darlington Mowden Park respectively

Simon Willet, left, and Mark Ireland, right, have left Otley for Wharfedale and Darlington Mowden Park respectively

First published in Sport

OTLEY Rugby Union Club's have started their 150th year by securing a crucial link between their junior and senior sections.

This boost at the annual meeting, which is seen as a starting point for putting the club back on the map, helped to alleviate the loss of marquee players Mark Ireland and Simon Willet, who have joined Darlington Mowden Park and Wharfedale respectively.

Club chairman Donald Holdsworth outlined the system to get the junior and senior section combining more strongly, which received significant backing from the floor.

One of the landmarks of their 150th anniversary year will be a dinner dance at the Queens's Hotel in Leeds on May 8, 2015 to which England manager Stuart Lancaster and Otley-born England World Cup winner Mike Tindall have already accepted invitations.

Former player Mike Barnett spoke eloquently at Otley's annual meeting about the need for co-operation between the junior and senior arms of the club.

An Otley boy, he started as a junior in 1972, going on to spend many successful years in the first team and, at the end of his playing career, he took up coaching with the RFU, spending four years in charge of the England Women's A team and is now RFU development staff manager for the north of England.

Director of rugby James Tiffany, who was congratulated on his handling of a difficult season on the field due to injuries, reiterated his passion for the club and revealed that he intended to have more locals in the side, starting with the current under-16 and under-17 squads.

Club doctor John Thompson was then thanked for his years of service to the club, which was combined with stints as chairman of juniors and club chairman.

Retiring president Michael Procter expressed his thanks for the support he had received during his term of office and his successor David Summers paid tribute to Procter for his tireless work and good humour during some difficult times.

After spells with Kendal and Sheffield, the versatile 23-year-old Ireland, who can play fly half, centre or full back, established himself as a key member of Otley's first-team squad since joining them last summer.

His impressive kicking displays saw him rack up 272 points, with a 77 per cent strike rate, finishing second in the league top points scorers.

Ireland's consistent displays also led to Yorkshire call-ups in May.

Mowden Park coach Danny Brown said: “We are delighted to secure the services of Mark. Having watched him play against us (with Otley), he is a quality player who will add a great deal to our squad.

"He is a physical and intelligent player, who also possesses a considerable boot. We continue to add to the current squad of players here at Mowden as we prepare for the step up to National League One.”

After a number of seasons in National League Two North, Ireland is excited about taking the next step. He said: “Having played against Mowden on a number of occasions, I was impressed with the ambitious style of rugby they played and this was a considerable factor in drawing me to the club.

"They are a young squad who like to throw the ball around and play fast-paced, exciting rugby. I am still looking to develop as a player and to have access to facilities like the Arena is a rare privilege and an exciting opportunity.”

Wharfedale have boosted their squad by signing locks Willet and Tony Oxley.

Scot Willet joins from Otley, having played against the Greens in May in the Yorkshire Cup final at Wagon Lane, while Oxley has arrived from Old Crossleyans.

In addition, prop Jake Armstrong's signing from Leeds Carnegie – he was dual registered with Otley – has been made permanent.

Willet, 28, came to Cross Green ahead of the 2011-12 season from Selkirk, having also represented Edinburgh Academicals north of the border.

In addition, the 6ft 5in former Otley skipper has also had two spells in New Zealand, representing Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty and Harbour Rugby Club in Dunedin.

The likeable Willet had an eventful three years with the SSE National League Two North club, being suspended for 14 weeks in May 2012 for "making contact with the eye or eye area of an opponent" – a charge he vehemently denies – and missing almost six months of the 2012-13 season with a knee injury.

Tight-head prop Armstrong, 20, is a former Woodhouse Grove pupil who went on to study at Leeds Metropolitan University.

He has represented Yorkshire and England at under-17s and under-18s level and also represented England 19s last year while being duel registered with Otley.

The United Kingdom under-17discus champion has also played for Yorkshire under-15s and under-16s and North of England under-16s.

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