Club Begins Official Play at the Johnston County Rugby Park

Club Begins Official Play at Johnston County Rugby Park

CLAYTON, North Carolina – On February 10, 2024 the Clayton Rugby Football Club fulfilled a dream that was almost seven years in the making. The date marked the first official match played at the Johnston County Rugby Park as the club men’s sides took on Fayetteville in a double header. While the club had a soft opening with a Charity Old Boys 10s match in December, these were the first official matches played at the park. 

The park, which is a joint effort between the Clayton RFC and the Town of Wilson’s Mills, began as a casual conversation almost 7 years ago and led the club down a path that they never expected. After nearly a year of negotiations, both parties signed an agreement on the facility. The town retained ownership of the land, which is part of their community park, and the club was responsible for the development of the rugby fields. Ground was broken the summer of 2018 and grading on all three pitches was completed in the spring of 2022. Since then, the club has focused on developing the turf on the pitches. 

The club began running touch rugby at the park during the summer of 2023 and then transitioned all practices for both the youth and men’s teams shortly after. 

“It has been a long and hard road for sure,” added Clayton RFC President Ted Hardy. “There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears out there. This project wasn’t for the faint of heart. We didn’t have millions of dollars at our disposal to make this happen, so we did it through good, old fashioned grassroots efforts. There are too many people to name that have donated time, equipment, money, and effort into getting us to this point. We are indebted to so many amazing people.”

The club’s relationship with the Town of Wilson’s Mills is a key ingredient in the development of the park. All three pitches at the park are of full international size. Two of the three pitches were designed as multi-purpose fields. When not in use for rugby, the fields are open to the public to provide much needed recreational space for the growing community. 

“We can’t thank the Town of Wilson’s Mills enough for their confidence and support over the years,” said Hardy. “They stuck with us when things got tough during the pandemic and believed in our vision for the park. We continue to work with them closely on growing rugby and community events at the park. Along with that we have a shared vision for the future of the park and what it can bring to our community.”

There is still much work to be done at the park. Improving the turf is near the top of the list for the club as they have invested heavily in it over the past two years. After the spring aeration, over seeding and fertilization the Championship Pitch is due to get a rest over the summer as the club is going to top dress the pitch to help the bermuda take off. Efforts will then move to Field 2 to start preparing it for use next year. 

“We still have a long way to go with the turf,” added Hardy. “We have our cycles down and the progress in the past year has been good. We hope to see Field 2 up and running within the next year. It is an important piece for us as it opens the door for the return of tournament hosting for us. It also helps us take the load off of the Championship Pitch.”

The club and town are working on the next phase at the park. At the top of their priorities is getting the lights installed on the Championship Pitch and adding lighting to the parking lot. The goal is to have those items completed later in 2024. Following up on that, they have begun work on a new Master Plan for the park to lay out future upgrades. One of the focal points for the future is a joint clubhouse and community building at the park.   

On the pitch, it was an amazing day for the first official games at the park. There was a beautiful sky and temperatures were right around 70 making for a perfect February day. There was a large crowd on hand to cheer on both sides.

Fayetteville came out gunning and jumped to an early 19-0 lead before Lamont Weathers scored the first XVs try for Clayton at the new park. Fayetteville came back with a couple of more scores to stretch their lead to 33-5. A quick and skilled Fayetteville back line created problems for the home side. The Bootleggers finally found their footing and clawed right back into the match with tries from Derek Oliphant, Ted Hardy, and one to close out the half with Seamus Brennan scoring a long try after a break and offload from Ahmayzin Taylor. The scores closed the gap to 33-22 as the sides went into the break.

Fayetteville got on the board first in the second half but the Bootleggers answered back with a second try from Oliphant to cut the lead to 38-27. The two sides went back and forth for the next 10-15 minutes with neither giving ground. As the match rolled into the final 20 minutes, some injuries and fatigue crept in for the Bootleggers and Fayetteville began to pull away. Three more converted tries from the visitors were only answered with a Penalty Try awarded to Clayton when Gareth Davies was taken out with a high tackle as he was about to score.

“We saw some good things out there and some things we need to work on,” said Clayton Head Coach and Men’s Director Rich Munro. “We have a good group forming and we’re excited about their potential.”

1st XV Final Score

Fayetteville 59 Clayton 34

It was a disappointing end to the match, but there was a lot to enjoy. The relatively inexperienced Bootlegger side put up a good fight against a strong opponent.

In the B side match our Killer Bs played for the first time in more than two years. The return of the Killer Bs is a testament to our improved playing numbers over the past year. The club aims to see this trend continue and offer a full B side schedule next season. The club’s 2nd side was a big part of their success prior to the pandemic and their return is a promising sign for the future. 

The Killer Bs followed up with a spirited effort against Fayetteville’s B side. The two sides played a shortened match, but kept the intensity high all the way to a 10-10 draw. Cade Zais and Mitch King accounted for the two scores for our Killer Bs.

2nd XV Final Score

Clayton 10 Fayetteville 10

The club followed up this past weekend by hosting divisional opponent Myrtle Beach. The visiting side traveled to Clayton light on numbers which resulted in a forfeit. In the spirit of rugby, the sides shared players and played a 12 on 12 match. This provided a great opportunity for Clayton to get some new and inexperienced players valuable game time. The Clayton RFC truly appreciates Myrtle Beach for making the trip and for the fun rugby on the pitch. The two sides lit up the scoreboard with some long breaks and open play with fewer players on the pitch. 

The Bootleggers are back in action this weekend as they travel to take on Hartsville RFC in South Carolina. 

To learn more about the Clayton RFC or to get information on becoming a member, please contact the club at [email protected]