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Cambridge Rugby Club reaping rewards of pre-season schedule as Richie Williams calls for defensive improvement

Director of rugby Richie Williams has attributed a competitive pre-season schedule as one of the leading reasons behind Cambridge’s winning start to 2022/23.

Twelve months ago the Grantchester Road-based side were playing catch up from the off after they got under way with three straight defeats.

It followed a summer in which Covid-19 restrictions had resulted in a more low-key build up than what Williams would have preferred, whereas this time around they were able to pit themselves against higher-league Nottingham of the Championship.

Richie Williams has been pleased with how Cambridge have started the new season. Picture: Keith Heppell
Richie Williams has been pleased with how Cambridge have started the new season. Picture: Keith Heppell

And two wins from as many outings would suggest that Williams’ side are reaping the benefits.

He said: “We’ve been really pleased with the start that the group has made. It was a big focus for us to make sure that we started the season better than we did last year.

“We lost the first three games and that ended up really affecting our league position because we were playing catch up right from the start. We spoke as a group during the summer about what we needed to do differently.

Match action from Cambridge's victory at Bishop's Stortford last weekend. Picture: Vikki Lince
Match action from Cambridge's victory at Bishop's Stortford last weekend. Picture: Vikki Lince

“Last summer was a real challenge and we couldn’t get the fixtures in we wanted to. We couldn’t play anybody from the league above and that had an impact on us physically.

“But playing Nottingham presented us with a real challenge and it sharpened us up going into the season.

“We also tweaked a few things, had a bit more focus on strength and conditioning and we’ve taken that on.”

Cambridge’s most recent victory came during Saturday’s short journey down the M11 to Bishop’s Stortford. The visitors found themselves staring down the barrel of a defeat on more than one occasion at Silver Leys, but a late rally saw them come out on top 36-30.

“It was a local derby and there is always a lot of emotion riding on those,” added Williams.

“We were 15-0 down inside 15 minutes but it was very pleasing to see the players remain calm and work their way back into the game.

“I think overall we were behind three times but going into the last quarter we showed some real leadership in key areas of the pitch and we managed to create the opportunities that were needed.”

However, while Williams was pleased to see that his team possesses decent powers of recovery, he is keen for them to tighten up defensively.

Last year only champions Caldy shipped fewer points than Cambridge, but from their two encounters this term they have conceded 58 points.

“We’re in a good position after two games with try bonus-point wins but there are lots of little things we would like to develop,” he said.

“Defensively we need to improve because we’ve not been close yet to the standards we expect and what we set last season.

“It’s pleasing to see the mental resolve, especially in a derby when we’ve been behind for long periods, but we also need to make sure we’re not having to rely on it so much.”

Cambridge will aim to make it three wins in a row on Saturday (September 17) when they play host to Taunton.

The visitors from Somerset provided Cambridge with a couple of tough assignments last season and Williams is expecting more of the same at the weekend.

“Both games were really tough last year,” he said.

“They were newly promoted but they had a very good season and it didn’t take them long to look like they had got used to the level.

“We’re preparing for it to be another tough game. We know they’re a free-flowing side who like to score lots of points and they’re good at the set-piece as well.

“We’re going to need to be better defensively than we were last weekend against Stortford.”

Taunton started the campaign with a 28-24 victory at Leeds Tykes before suffering a 33-26 home defeat to Plymouth Albion last time out.

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