A new season, a new league, a new captain and a new varsity goal echoes around the University of Gloucestershire men’s rugby union first team, with a local derby set to welcome them into the world of Prem B in a few weeks’ time.
UGRFC saw a remarkable 2018/19 campaign, dominating the Western1A league and earning themselves promotion into PremB, as well winning their fourth consecutive varsity match against the University of Worcester.
Pre-season is now well underway as Director of Rugby, Chris Downes and his coaching staff put the boys through their paces ahead of the new season.
“Our guys are in strength and conditioning already doing prehab and rehab work, these guys can get fit in probably four weeks, what we’re doing on the pitch is the same thing we always do.
“Develop them, working them hard, getting them used to everything again, seeing how well they can work under pressure.”
With such a strong season last year, the squad cannot afford to get too carried away given the huge step up into the league above. Expectations must be kept realistic, something that Downes is well aware of.
“The expectations are that we try as hard as we can, keep developing as a squad, do ourselves proud and find our feet in that league, we need to test ourselves and see where we are at.
“Hartpury at home for the first game is a lively opener but the guys know what we’re working to, local derby at home in Prem B is a great way to start.”
Every year it is inevitable that universities will lose graduating players and gain a new intake of freshers. The bigger universities are lucky enough to be able to scout players during school level but for the smaller universities, like Gloucestershire they rely solely on the talent that walks through the door.
“We’re not any of the big universities who have big rugby programs and we’re not trying to be. They have huge budgets; we don’t have a budget.
“When I took over the director of rugby role, I said the ‘best of the rest’ and we can only do what we can.
“We take players in and make them better”
Last season’s starting scrum-half, Josh Putt takes on the captains armband this year and after finding his feet within the squad during his second year, Downes has full faith in his new role.
“He is a good guy, in his first year he was mad for the social and didn’t take it overly seriously and we knew if we got him fit, focused and engaged with the programme he had lots of potential and he got on board last year.
“He’s very level headed so he will manage the politics off the pitch which is important as part of the committee.
“He’s a nice guy and a good leader, so fingers crossed he’ll cope really well.”
April and varsity seems a long way off and the focus must be put entirely on the league, but that doesn’t mean that the thoughts of one more varsity win aren’t there.
“Five’s better than four, isn’t it?
“If we start to worry about varsity now then we will start to lose focus on what we are trying to achieve with being stable in Prem B.
“If I was in Worcester’s shoes I would be frustrated that we have over taken them in league positions.
“We just have to focus on us and that upward curve and not focus on anything else.”
A lot of people will view university rugby clubs as just another sports society, or can overlook it for the stigma that clubs can carry. However, at the University of Gloucestershire, it is so much more than just a club. It is clear that Downes cares immensely about his team both on and off the pitch:
“We prepare guys for the outside world that’s effectively all we do.
“We just use the model of rugby, but all we are doing is preparing them for interviews, job applications, for the big wide world as it is and we just do it in the form of rugby.”
UGRFC will face the RAF development side on Sunday evening in their pre-season warm up fixture, a game that they won by a single point last year. It will be an opportunity to showcase some of the new freshers and give the team an idea of where they are at heading into the new season, as they prepare to take on PremB.