2011 Season: Cambridgeshire rugby preview
Last updated on .From the section Rugby Union
Cambridge Rugby Club will, inevitably, be cast as one of the favourites for the top spot in National League One, and with good reason.
They finished last term as the leading points scorers and entertainers in the division and have again recruited judiciously over the summer.
Director of rugby Bob Crooks has a knack for unearthing gems. This is not luck - Crooks is well connected and a coach of considerable worth.
"With the pre-season that we've had and the players that I've recruited, I'm probably as happy as I've ever been," Crooks told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
"I want to play rugby the way you want to see it played."
For the third season running, the Blood & Sand have lost their top try scorer - Billy Robinson has moved to Championship side Moseley.
Fly-half Dan Mugford has gone to newly-promoted London Scottish who won National One last time out.
Other departures include Robbie Hurrell to Stourbridge Saxons, prop Rick Reeves to Bedford Blues, and centres Phil Ellis and Alex Dodge to Blackheath and Barking respectively.
Hooker Stewart Pearl has moved o, too, as has winger Will Martin. Scrum-half Ben Spencer has remained at the club, but is also playing for Saracens A team and training with the Premiership champions.
In their places, Crooks has installed a number of exciting additions. Fly-half Sam Dimmick and full-back James Crozier look well suited to Cambridge's free-flowing running game, and the capture of young Welsh lock Bryn Jenkins from Launceston could be similarly inspired.
Props Mike Cade (Peterborough) and Tom Fidler (Newbury Blues), hooker Jarred Taylor from Hertford and a host of promotions from last season's Wanderers squad see Cambridge as the team to beat.
The major threats to their Championship aspirations would appear to be the newly-promoted trio of Ealing Trailfinders, Jersey and Fylde, plus I would also expect more of a challenge from Stourbridge.
A crucial area will be defence and veteran back row Darren Fox is the new coach in that department. When Fox defends, it is for keeps.
"The key to success for this year is to maintain the attacking excellence and lace on another tactical nuance to how we do things," Crooks added.
Shelford have recruited well too, and changed their coaching set up.
Dick Matthews is in charge at the Davey Field, ably assisted by the vast experience of Glen Remnant, who's still playing whilst coaching the forwards, and Tim Reed, who is looking after the backs.
They spent the majority of last season flirting with relegation and are aiming for a top six finish this time out.
"We've got some good lads this season and a few tries in us," Reed said.
"We only won three games on the road last season so we need to improve on that."
The Peacocks have a big squad, and will have learned a lot from the trials of last term's struggle.
The boot of Ed Gough should be worth at least 200 points to the club - he missed almost every game through injury last time out - and if they can get ahead and close games out, they will win far more than they lose.
The addition of the Owens boys, Harry and Jack, from Barking should be good news, as could the return to competitive action of centre Adam Barnard.