The Archers are preparing to host ‘100 Games at Lady Bay’ this coming weekend, when they welcome RFU Championship leaders, Ealing Trailfinders.
It’ll be the one hundredth game in which Lady Bay has hosted at the ground, since they moved there from Meadow Lane at the beginning of 2015, and current Head Coach, a former player, and captain, of the Archers (2001-12), Craig Hammond, is excited about the weekend ahead.
“It’s a pretty exciting occasion for the club,” began Hammond, looking ahead to the landmark game.
“It’s a great achievement and there’s certainly been a lot of effort gone in here over the past few years, so yes, I’m excited for it.
“However, we’ve also got a hard run ahead of us, and against some really top sides, so, for Saturday (playing-wise) it doesn’t matter if it’s against Ealing, or someone around us (in the table).”
Hammond returned to the club, taking on the position Head Coach, in June 2021, ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, following a spell overseas, in Hong Kong, having left the club, for pastures new, nearly ten years prior, and before the move.
Since the move though, and of the previous, 99 games, to have been played at Lady Bay, it was to be during the 2017-18 season would see the most points (340), and tries (942) registered overall, along with the most points (276), and conversions (25), in a league season; the most tries in a season came a few seasons earlier, in 2015-16 (33).
The biggest, winning margin, for a game at Lady Bay, arrived on 27 April 2018, when the Archers defeated Rotherham 38-5 (33pt margin), however, for the points, and tries in a game, you have to go back another two years, and the game against the visiting, Cornish Pirates, on 23 April 2016.
Some 88 points were registered that afternoon, Nottingham romping to a 55-33 success, the hosts bagging eight tries, five conversions, and a penalty, in the win.
The Archers starters on the April afternoon were – Conor Carey, Antonio Harris, Tom Heard, Morgan Eames, Toby Freeman, Rob Langley, Matt Everand, Paul Grant, Murray McConnell, Daniel Mugford, Sam Murray, Viliame Hakalo, Ben Woods, Viliame Longi, Billy Robinson.
Six of the players from the dance with the Pirates were also involved in that first game at Lady Bay, in 2015 – Carey, Freeman, Grant, Mugford, Longi, and Robinson; as for the Pirates game itself, the eight tries, in order of player crossing, would be Longi, Hakalo, Longi, Freeman, Longi, Langley, Mugford, and Robinson late on, with Mugford also slotting home five conversions and a penalty for added measure.
Match highlights of Nottingham vs. Cornish Pirates, Lady Bay, 23 April 2016 here
Meanwhile, and back at the beginning of the Lady Bay journey, some eight years ago gone January, it was to be the dawning of a new era for Nottingham’s, flagship rugby club.
Then HC, Martin Haag (2012-16), said at the time of the Archers’ move to Lady Bay: “The future is to make sure that we still have a rugby club of Championship standing. We’ve got a lot of great sport in this city and we want to be part of that.”
In the game prior to that switch, the Archers’ last at Meadow Lane, it saw a narrow, 22-21 win over visiting London Scottish, on 4 January, before going on to face Plymouth Albion, in front of 1,650 spectators, two weeks later, 18 January 2015.
A Brent Wilson brace, and one for Ben Brownlie, coupled with two conversions and a penalty from Rory Lynn, saw the Archers seal a 22-19 win; the 22-man squad for the historic, first match at Lady Bay, was –
Campese Ma’afu, Shaun Walton, Conor Carey, Toby Freeman, Daniel Montagu, Robert Cooper, Brent Wilson, Paul Grant, Daniel Mugford, Viliame Longi, Javiah Pohe, Edward Styles, Ryan Hough, Billy Robinson, Ben Brownlie, Michael Holford, Morgan Eames, Thomas Calladine, Alexander Smit, Rory Lynn, Liam O’Neill
Brownlie would cross for the Archers’ first try, before Wilson added two more, Rory Lynn also kicking a penalty late on.
“The transition, from Meadow Lane to Lady Bay, it’s been good,” continued Hammond, the clubs’ custodian since 2021.
“There’s certainly a lot of noise made here and that makes it what it is, the crowd makes it what it is and we’ll get big crowds here, whether that’s for us, or the university (who also play here).”
Now though, it’s about trying to build some momentum, especially with those big games ahead for the Archers, in the remaining games of the season, beginning first, with the visit of Ealing, on Saturday.
A 28-17 win away to Richmond, last time out, courtesy of tries from Josh Neville, Michael Stronge, David Williams, and Kehinde Olowofela, along with four conversions from Samuel Hollingsworth, renewed hope for Hammond and his Archers.
“(The win against) Richmond, it was a good five points on the road, which was great” added Hammond.
“We had a big focus on how we started the game, and were 21-7 up at the interval, but I guess we let them off the hook in the second (Richmond added points late on).
“In this though (Ealing Trailfinders), it is a completely different beast this weekend; it’s a challenge, an opportunity that you either rise, or fall to.
“They’re power-dominated, and unbelievable going forward, so we have to try and stop them, slow them down, which I do think that we can do.”
Including the upcoming, hundredth, at Lady Bay, the Archers have four left to play at home this season, with a further two away (Jersey Reds and Coventry); the home games remaining are – Ealing Trailfinders (18 March), Bedford Blues (26 March), Ampthill (14 April), and London Scottish (28 April).
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @NottinghamRugby Lady Bay has been home to Nottingham since 2015.