POURING rain failed to dampen spirits as a rugby league side played its first ever Open Age men’s fixture – almost four years after their founding.

West Oxfordshire Levellers held just two training sessions before the first Covid-19 lockdown struck, but finally made their bow against a Swindon St George side which included former Northampton Saints flanker Aaron Hinkley.

The 24-year-old’s March exit from Premiership side Saints came as a shock after he had impressed for them last season.

Hinkley, a former England Under-20 international, scored one try in 19 appearances for the club.

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About 200 people watched him in the game at the playing fields off Old Witney Road in Eynsham, and while the hosts competed in parts of the match, it was the visitors who dominated from the off and scored a well-worked try down the right-hand side in the opening exchanges.

The Levellers weren’t helped when they lost captain Alex Knight inside the first 10 minutes of the game, with Marcus Reading coming on in his place.

Full back Josh Algar had the honour of becoming Levellers’ first points scorer during the opening period, after some strong defensive teamwork.

The ball was dislodged in a tackle, before Algar put a boot to the loose ball and won the foot race to the line.

It was to be the Levellers’ only try of the game as the away side ran out 62-4 winners.

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Earlier in the day, the Levellers completed the double over St George as the teams’ Under-12 and Under-14 sides went head-to-head.

The Under-12s won 20-16, while the Under-14s came out as 26-8 victors.

Club founder John Connaughton told this newspaper: “It was pouring down with rain, but we still got a fair few people.

“The junior activity was really good, and seeing how well they’ve done was impressive.

“I was really proud of the day and I think everyone involved had a great time.

“I didn’t really get a chance to sit back and see how the day was going, but a lot of the messages since have been nice and there were lots smiles on people’s faces.

“It takes a lot of confidence to put something like this together, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support I’ve had.

“It’s been brilliant, and the players have been committed too, and did me proud.”

Asked about the next steps for the Levellers, Connaughton said: “We’ve got a big family fun day on September 16 where all the clubs playing X-League will be coming down.

“Hopefully there’ll be some junior activity and people can make a family day of it.”

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About the author

To sign up to Liam’s latest Oxford United newsletter for free, click here: https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/newsletters/

Formerly the politics reporter for the Oxford Mail, Liam now covers all things Oxford United.

Liam attends the U’s home and away, as well as covering other big sports stories across the county.

His Oxford United newsletter is released every Saturday morning at 6am.