James Shanahan ready to put Cambridge University RUFC through their paces against Loughborough University
Light Blues to start Varsity Match countdown
James Shanahan has described this year’s Cambridge University RUFC squad as one of the fittest and strongest he has coached.
The Light Blues start their preparations for the Varsity Match on December 6, with a home game against Loughborough University tonight (Wednesday), and that comes on the back of a pre-season training camp in Portugal.
The squad have not been together since March, but the off-season work they have done has impressed Shanahan.
“I’m really pleased with their work ethic, and the strength and conditioning they have done with James Owen in the off-season has been outstanding,” said the Light Blues head coach.
“They are fitter than any squad I have coached, and stronger. There are still lots of gains to be made as well, it’s not like we have plateaued.
“It’s a big pat on the back for James Owen and the work he has done as a strength and conditioner and also to the boys themselves.
“Previous years before I arrived, we finished the Varsity Match and then downed tools until September, and they rocked up then in horrendous condition and you had to try to get fit and get up to speed with the rugby, hence why Cambridge was always on the backfoot.
“The mentality has completely changed, and it’s since really Daniel Dass’ year [as captain].
“His work ethic and ability to lead the side was huge and it’s continued down to the rest of the guys, people like Mike Phillips, Chris Bell, Stephen Leonard and Matt Watson, who have been in the system.
“Nick Koster has been outstanding in the off-season with his leadership and a lot of the younger players are the senior players now because they have done one or two Varsity Matches.”
Shanahan feels that the squad got through a month’s worth of detail during their spell in Portugal, and the continuity has also helped them.
Captain Koster leads a host of returning Blues that also includes Bell, Phillips, Leonard, Rory Triniman, Jonny Dixon, Miles Huppatz, Will Dean, Andrew Hunter, Jake Hennessey and Matt Watson, with many of the new undergraduates in the squad having come from the under-20s or LX Club.
“What is good is that only two or three players in Portugal have not been in the system so the rest understand our pattern of play, our attacking structure and our defensive philosophy,” said Shanahan.
“There is continuity throughout the club so the LX Club are trying to implement what the Blues are doing and the under-20s are trying to do the same, although maybe not in as much detail, but when they do step up they are not thinking ‘I have no idea what’s going on here’.
“I’m really happy with the development we’re trying to achieve so if they first arrive at 18, hopefully by the time they get to 19, 20, 21, they are Blues standard and have the ability to push on.”
A Lions Den day is being held at Grange Road on Saturday, with England sevens star Ollie Phillips leading a festival of rugby for eight and nine-year-olds from local clubs.
That is followed by a mixed touch tournament, and then the Old Girls’ match, with the current Blues squad against alumnae.