Jake McCloud making an impact on return to Cambridge
Forward having an eye-catching campaign
Before the start of this season, to the hardened Cambridge rugby supporter the name Jake McCloud would perhaps bring memories of a difficult time for the club.
It was nothing to do with the player himself, but a cameo appearance in a victory against Sedgley Tigers ended with the club being deducted five points as the then 20-year old was not registered properly.
McCloud was not to be seen again, and that season culminated in Cambridge being relegated to National League 2S.
But their promotion back to National League One brought with it a return for McCloud, who is turning into one of the finds of the season.
His first spell at Cambridge came via boyhood club Ampthill and a couple of seasons in Bedford Blues’ academy.
“It was a chance at first-team rugby and at the time Ampthill were a few leagues lower, so I felt I would rather play at a higher standard of rugby,” he said.
“I came here and I absolutely loved it – it was when Bob Crooks (the former director of rugby) was here.
“It was a great opportunity to play National One, and to be honest I got the one call-up and unfortunately that was the issue when we got deducted five points and we ended up getting relegated.
“There was the whole fiasco with that, and I was working full time, and coming here three times a week when you’ve got a full-time job is a bit of a nightmare.
“I ended up having to sack it in and went back to play for Ampthill. I played there for a couple of years, but as much as it is my home club and I love it, I fell out of love with the sport a bit.”
The opportunity then came for McCloud to head to the States through one of his former forward coaches, who had become director of rugby at a club in Dallas, Texas.
“In terms of standard, it was probably a couple of levels lower,” said McCloud. “But I had always wanted to go to America.
“I had lost my love for the sport so I just thought I would go over to Dallas, enjoy myself and play maybe one or two lower than National One.
“It’s a lot more physical than it is here though, a lot more physical. You’ve got a lot of American football rejects playing and then the odd few foreign players.
“I absolutely loved it. I played there for a season but had a few visa complications because to be honest I hadn’t played a high enough standard in order to get a proper rugby visa over there – you have to play at least Championship.”
McCloud returned with the intention of rejoining Ampthill, but during the summer he played in the same sevens team as Cambridge’s Oli Petrides, Louis Rawlings and Lawrence Hutchinson, and they persuaded him back to Volac Park.
“I loved it when I was here before,” said McCloud. “The atmosphere and environment is great. I think it is very professional for the fact that we’re a semi-professional side.
“I couldn’t ask for more to be honest. The travelling is well worth the sacrifice.”
Those experiences since have helped enhance McCloud’s career, with the back-row forward putting in some impressive performances, so the step up to National League One has not been as daunting as it might have been.
“When I was playing here five years ago, mentally I feel like I had the same attitude to my rugby and my skillset was the same, but physically it was a lot to cope with,” he said.
“And then playing in America for a season, it was a lot more physical than it is here – even at National League standards.
“I think if you probably go up another level again, it’s a lot quicker and a lot more physical. The game was slower but the impacts were way harder.
“I think I have developed physically as well now. I’m 24, I’m not an 18-year-old, so I’ve been working on getting bigger and it’s paid dividends really.”
The style of Cambridge’s play has also helped McCloud adjust, and although his running style and turn of foot has stood out from the back of the pack at No 8, he is more than happy just to be in the team.
“I much prefer flowing rugby, and I love the way that Cambridge play,” he said.
“They play touchline to touchline and really try to play running rugby, instead of playing to win which is boring – the kicking game where you to try to scrum and line-out and you just go for penalties all the time.
“As much as other teams play that game, I think if we can work on playing good rugby, that will succeed in the long term.
“I’ve played six, seven and eight, and I’m just happy to be on the park to be honest.
“I see myself as an eight purely because I love running with the ball, but if they want to put me at six or seven or eight, by all means go ahead.”