Richie Williams has high hopes for Cambridge Rugby Club ahead of new National League One campaign
Richie Williams has described the current Cambridge squad as the best in his time at the club as they get set to embark on a new National League One campaign.
The majority of the recruitment had been done in the summer of 2020, but it was for a season that was never to start.
However, the group of players have stayed together, initially in the anticipation that it would just be a delayed beginning to the 2020/21 campaign and then to plan for the 2021/22 season.
It means that the club have put in the groundwork and hope to see the fruits of their labour on the pitch.
“We’ve invested a lot of our time and energy in the playing group we’ve assembled, albeit we’ve not had much rugby action to embed some of those things,” said director of rugby Williams.
“What it has taught us is the importance of that team cohesion off the pitch as well as on the pitch.
“We’ve highlighted the importance of the closeness and the bonds that those players develop both on and off the field.
“I would like to think that with some of the characters and personalities we’ve got, they are a pretty tight-knit group at the moment.
“As with anything, the challenge will come when we start the season and get into the competition phase.
“When we start the first league game against Rams, it will be a curtailed squad of 20 players and it’s the difficult conversations you have to have with the non-selected players.
“It will be a barometer to see how close the group is off the field but, from our perspective as a coaching and management team, I think we’ve got the best squad that I’ve certainly worked with at the club. With that comes a level of expectation from within.”
There have, of course, been squad changes, which is the least you would expect given the 18 months that everyone has gone through, but it is an almost equal number of departures and arrivals.
Mike Mayhew, Jonty Rawcliffe and Fin Creighton have all left the club for one reason or another.
“Mike Mayhew has decided to step away from rugby,” said Williams.
“He picked up quite a serious haematoma in his leg 18 months ago and has not recovered to a point where he is comfortable playing rugby again. He is still in the area and comes down regularly to the club but he is not going to be playing, certainly for the first part of this season.
“Jonty Rawcliffe picked up another pretty serious concussion against the university back in June and has had a series of head injuries during his time at Sale FC so been advised to stop playing rugby.
“It’s a loss for us because we had big plans for Jonty. His size and physicality lends itself to how we want to attack this season, so it’s a shame we’ve lost him.
“The third player we’ve lost is Fin Creighton, who has gone across to Bury St Edmunds in National League Two.
“He was looking for regular first-team rugby and felt that with us having two other scrum-halves at the club, he wasn’t going to be guaranteed that regular first-team rugby on a Saturday.
“It’s disappointing on one hand to lose Fin, but we wish him all the best.”
However, coming in are Harry Morley, Ziana Alexis, Kieran Frost and Kwaku Asiedu.
Three of those were already familiar names to Cambridge.
Props Morley and Alexis have both been playing for Jersey in recent seasons in the Championship and will contest with Billy Walker, Henry Peck and Sam Copeland for places in the front row.
“It will give us some real strength in depth in the front row which historically is one of the most important areas in National League rugby,” said Williams.
“If you’ve got a solid scrum and a solid platform to play off then it allows you to do different things in attack. It’s going to give us a different dimension and platform to launch off this season.”
Winger Asiedu had a successful spell on loan at Cambridge from Coventry in the past, and has subsequently gone on to Ampthill and London Scottish.
“We know what he can do,” said Williams, “he scored a lot of tries for us three seasons ago in my first season at the club.”
The complete newcomer to Volac Park is Frost, who had impressed against Cambridge in the past for Rotherham.
“He is a slightly different profile to the second rows we’ve got already but he has been really impressive in pre-season,” said Williams, who added: “We’ve recruited some players but ultimately we’ve kept that group of players that we would have had for the beginning of last season.”
It is with that in mind that Williams, pictured right, assesses the return of National League
One, which has been on hold since March 7.
“It’s been a long pre-season if you cater for last year with the non-starter of a season, it seems like an eternity that we’ve had this group of players together,” he said.
“I think the overriding emotion is that of excitement and anticipation.
“We’re confident that the squad we’ve assembled plus the players that we retained can do really well this season at National One level.
“I think everybody now is just looking ahead to the first league game.”
There is still no clarification from the RFU on exactly how many teams will be promoted to the Championship at the end of the season, with some talk that it could be as many as four.
But that does not alter Williams’ ambitions, which are to finish higher than they did in the last season – 10th in the aborted 2019/20 campaign.
“We want to finish as high up in National One as we can, the highest we have done as a club,” he said.
“In order for us to do that we’re going to have to pick up four or five more wins than we did last season which, in all honesty, I think we can do as a pretty settled group and with some of those new players we’ve just referenced.
“Ultimately we want to be a really competitive team at this level.
“We’re eyeing up a top half of the table finish this season, and I think that is realistic for the squad we’ve put together.”