Ambitious Mike Mayhew strives for success in National League One with Cambridge
When Cambridge announced the signing of Mike Mayhew, it felt like quite a coup.
A player whose rugby in this country has been in the Premiership and Championship, it was a bit of a surprise to see him drop down to National League One.
Mayhew had started last season – one which was admittedly disrupted by injury – at Yorkshire Carnegie and finished at Doncaster.
There was certainly life in the legs at the higher tier, especially when you consider that, at 32 and a hooker, there is an argument to be had that his best years may still lie ahead.
However, perhaps as a mark of the man, having also played for Newcastle and London Irish, Mayhew was looking for a new challenge – in rugby and in life – to put his knowledge to good use.
“I don’t really feel the need to play another year in the Championship or try to play Premiership again, it didn’t really appeal to me,” he explains.
“To come down and be part of a team striving to move up, and not just clinging on, that’s more ambitious for me.
“The Championship at the moment – there are a couple of teams that are clearly going to go up – just didn’t really appeal to me to play in for another year and I didn’t want to be in a full-time team.
“I’m at that point where I would still like to play really good rugby – I’m the sort of guy that’s always going to want to play to my best – but I want to sort jobs off the field.
“It’s my reasoning behind it. When I spoke to Richie (Williams, Cambridge’s head coach), he really sold it and I really like the club. It’s a cool area as well.
“At my stage of career, I wanted a new challenge to play rugby at a high level as well as be young enough to hopefully get a career going.”
Mayhew is one of three brothers to have played top-level rugby, with Richard having appeared for Newcastle and Leeds Carnegie before retiring this summer and Nic appearing for the Brumbies in the Super League, among others.
Mike is the middle of the three, and gives an interesting insight into what is required at the elite level.
“You realise that little mistakes you make are just so critical,” he explains.
“If you drop a pass in the wrong area of the field, miss a line-out or are caught out of position – one of those little areas where in another league you can sometimes get away with or make up by doing something good – at that level, errors like that are critical and cost you.
“It’s really good experience, and there is so much detail in each game at that level.
“You don’t just rock up on a Saturday, you go through the whole game-plan all week – nutrition, off-field stuff, analysis, so much goes into it.
“It’s going to be interesting to see where it goes – I imagine in 10 years it’s going to be nuts with all the science behind it.
“I enjoyed it there, but I just enjoy rugby. I’m just a typical Kiwi guy that loves playing rugby and I watch every game I can.”
That experience will now be at Cambridge’s disposal, and their recruitment showed they match Mayhew’s ambitions.
The New Zealander, who has also played for North Harbour and Waikato in his homeland, brings his knowledge to the forwards, while the same can be said of Andrew Henderson in the backs.
That will be crucial given the make-up of the players at Volac Park.
“It’s a very young squad but, being one of the older guys, it keeps you on your toes and everyone is really eager so it forces you to have to have that drive,” explains Mayhew.
“At the same time, you can pinpoint things and ask the boys to do things a different way, and it’s different options and opinions to your experience. It helps them and it helps me as well.
“It brings the energy and me and Hendo can bring a bit of experience and hopefully control a few things.”
Mayhew admits that his playing style has changed over the years.
The priority is now on the set-piece, and with that comes the ambition of making Cambridge’s one of the best in the division.
“I really enjoy getting one on the opposite number,” says the No 2, “I really pride myself on my scrummaging. Coming in and speaking to Richie, that was an area they really wanted to work on. I really want to be part of a scrum that is respected around the league.
“I also like to have a presence on the field, give us go-forward and put the odd shot in.
“I haven’t got the most finesse, but I just like to be involved really which is a big part of my game.”
As a Kiwi, who has a dual passport, it would be remiss not to ask predictions for the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
There seem to be two schools of thought developing, those who think it is wide open and those you think the winners are a nailed on.
Mayhew opts for the former, with a hint of the latter.
“Off the top of my head, I think it’s going to be New Zealand or England,” he says. “I think it’s genuinely going to be the closest world cup there has been.
“One or two teams will be kicked out via a red card, which is just going to be unlucky with the new rulings on head-high tackles and swinging out.
“There are a lot of teams that could win it, but I just have this feeling for England. If they get their game right, I think they will be tough to beat.
“At the same time, you can’t really go past New Zealand. On their day, they are pretty unstoppable and have that experience of winning big games.
“I go New Zealand v England final, with New Zealand to win it.”
By the time of the final, National League One will be seven games in and it would be a fair bet that Mayhew will have stamped his mark on Cambridge, and the division, by that point.