Fans' favourite Steve Hipwell to make return to Cambridge Rugby Club
Popular No 8 heading back to Volac Park
Steve Hipwell is making a surprise return to Cambridge Rugby Club.
The 34-year-old No 8 is a folk hero at Volac Park for his barnstorming runs and power off the base of the scrum.
He played a pivotal role in their promotion to National League One, but made the decision that summer to return to hometown club Diss in the London Leagues in 2016 for personal reasons.
However, after catching the eye of new Cambridge head coach Richie Williams while playing for Eastern Counties this season, he has been persuaded to return to the higher echelons of rugby.
“I think the principal reason he left in the first place was to be closer to home,” said Williams. “He’s got quite a high pressured job and I think he was just struggling with the commute back and forth to Cambridge three times a week.
“Steve played for Eastern Counties team against East Midlands and I watched that game. He was the stand-out forward on the pitch, against predominantly the Ampthill pack playing for East Midlands so he is still obviously a very talented player.
“Having someone with his experience and connection with the club from when he played before, I think you can almost build a pack around him just the way he plays.
“He is a very physical, very confrontational No 8 and it’s probably something we missed last year in parts of our game.
“He always seems to get over the gain-line when he carries the ball, so I think it’s the perfect fit just to add a bit more strength in depth to our back row.”
Williams admits that it was a challenge to persuade Hipwell to make the return to Cambridge.
“I think he has always had that affiliation with the club as well so that tends to make negotiations a bit easier,” said Williams.
“If they know the players they are playing with and are familiar with the surroundings, I think it’s a really easy start.
“A lot of the supporters know Steve and really like the way he plays because he is that physical, ball-carrying forward.
In terms of the pack, it is certainly looking strong for Cambridge next season and was given a further boost with hooker Alex Rayment winning the Norman Potter Cup as the Eastern Counties’ young player of the year.
“I worked with him with England Counties [under-20s] and he is really hard-working and only 19 or 20 so has a bright future ahead of him,” said Williams.
“We’re very lucky that we have him, Ean Griffiths and Cam Ruddock as well that played a lot of games so we’re pretty blessed that we’ve got three high-quality hookers in our squad.”
Meanwhile, there was heartbreak for Cambridge mini and youth product Fraser Dingwall with England at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
In the final against France, England, who also included former Cambridge loanee Ehren Painter, were defeated 33-25.