Cambridge Rugby Club look to build further ties in the game
Player grwoth and experience a key target
Dan Lewis could be the trailblazer for Cambridge Rugby Club as they look to extend their reach in world rugby.
The 20-year-old fly-half was on loan from Bedford Blues last season, and will be back at Volac Park in the autumn, on the conclusion of a spell at North Otago in New Zealand.
Director of rugby Ross Stewart is working with North Otago and their chief executive Colin Jackson, who was his former coach at Bedford, as Cambridge look to build links with a range of clubs.
The aim is to develop the relationship with North Otago so that youngsters can head to the other side of the world at the end of the English season to gain experience of different playing conditions and cultures.
“One of the things I’m adamant about for the players is that they develop outside of just the club,” said Stewart. “With that in mind, we have a young squad and we also need to support these players in exit routes at times.
“What I mean by that is hopefully progressing further into the next level of rugby, whether that be the Championship or Premiership. There are a couple of routes we try to go down to develop networks.
“It’s not guaranteed that you will play for North Otago but what is guaranteed is that you will develop as a person.
“We’ve got to offer more than just money, to be brutally honest. We have to offer a real development opportunity.
“We’ve opened our doors to people coming back over to us, but the passport rules make it difficult to be brutally honest, in terms of visas.
“It’s another network for us. Colin is very well known and grounded in world rugby with contacts in Spain, Holland, all over the place.”
Closer to home, Cambridge are also developing their links with the Blues.
Bedford changed their focus last year from running an under-19s team to looking at an academy development squad, who train with them and then play for other clubs in the area – with Lewis one of the first of that crop.
“We’re building that relationship where players aren’t ready for the Championship but we want to support their development, so we’re a vehicle for Bedford,” said Stewart.
“The key thing for me is we are player focused.
“We have to be very mindful about the club and we have to protect the club’s best interests, but I also believe that personally it’s about helping these guys get a pathway to achieving what they want to achieve.”
Ben Ibrahim will do pre-season with Bedford before returning to Cambridge, Matt Hema has been over and trained with them, while James Ayrton had a spell there last summer.
“It is about these players experiencing what that next tier is and also that they understand how hard they’ve got to work with us,” said Stewart.
“Obviously, we all want the same thing – the best players – but we have to stick to our word and really support guys and I think that’s the value of this club and the longevity, that we live and die by the sword a little bit.
“We support these players and rather than stop them progressing we help them so that we can perhaps get that two-way relationship as opposed to one way.
“And, ultimately, if they don’t make it or it doesn’t work for them, we’re there for them when they come back and they come back a better player for the experience.”