After last season’s good performance going undefeated at home, narrowly losing only one game out of four to the top two sides and ending third in the Eastern Counties 1 League, Wisbech Rugby Club faces a new challenge.
Retiring from 1st XV rugby are stalwarts, prop James Griffen and second row Ben Chapman, and Raimondas Vinksna and James Patrick who are currently still injured.
Coach Leonard Veenendaal said: “The World Rugby law changes which come into immediate effect will have an impact on our game in particular our very effective driving maul which we will continue putting a lot of work into, adapting to ensure it remains the threat it was last season.
“We also face an unknown quantity from the three new teams in the league this season: Beccles, Colchester and Bury St Edmunds.”
Hooker Nathaniel Humphreys, prop Sigitas Čiakas – who were not available last season, along with the return of back row Jake Read from London North West Division 2 side Chiswick – are a welcome boost to the squad which includes experienced senior players Kerrie McMullen, Solomon Prestidge, Olly Mackett, Sam Anderson, Jack Malkin and James Napier.
Veenendaal added: “I have to be honest and say I am disappointed in a handful of young players’ lack of commitment to pre-season, I was hoping they would step up and take what they achieved last season to the next level.
“Our pre-season preparations have not been to the same standard compared to the last three.
“Saying that, I do take heart from the likes of Alec South, Jacob Goat, Rory Willis, David Brodie, Will Boreham and Phil Cooper who have all impressed with their commitment.
“I am looking forward to the return of experienced hooker Nathaniel Humphreys alongside the powerhouse Sigitas Čiakas and the extra dimension Jake Read brings to the back row. Jake has played at a good level and can also cover hooker. As a squad we have set a target to finish in the league in the top two alongside a strong performance in the RFU Cup.
“I have to sincerely thank Buddy Lee from Wisbech Boxing Club and Mark Laws, strength and conditioning coach at Jordan Fitness, for their work and help improving the squad’s fitness over the last eight weeks and Alan Bird from Fenland Running Club for his time doing the dreaded fitness tests.”
Club captain Olly Mackett will this season also have a role of assistant coach alongside his playing commitments.
Wisbech 1st XV and Wildcats are away to West Norfolk in a friendly pre-season warm up game on Saturday, before the league kicks off on September 10 with the 1st XV hosting Wymondham at home, both kick off at 3pm.