As we near the end of 2018, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to take a look back over the past 12 months through the eyes of those that helped create those memories. Director of Rugby Mike Rayer, Will Hooley and Michael Le Bourgeois share their top moments from the past year.

Mike Rayer:

It is never easy sitting down and picking your ‘top’ moments from the year as they are so subjective, but here goes. We’ve had a great 12 months with plenty of highs and lots to work on as we move forward.

The British and Irish Cup run was very pleasing last season with some great wins over some very tough sides. Munster, Ospreys, Nottingham were all overcome, but we fell agonisingly short of a first final since 2011 when Ealing were  slightly better than us in the semi-final.

Our league performances were also really impressive last year, but the standout game for me came on the final day of the season when we needed a bonus point win to secure third place. And what happened? We were only 14-12 up with a couple of minutes remaining. Then, well, we did what Bedford Blues do. We never gave up, we created opportunities and we ran in two tries through Rich Lane and Jordan Burns. It was a perfect end to a very tough season.

The end of the campaign also saw us saying goodbye to two stalwarts of the club. Paul Tupai joined in 2008 for what was meant to be his swan-song as he transitioned from professional rugby player to working man. It never happened. Toops gave this club ten wonderful years of service on the pitch and he was the man that players looked up to off of it. We also said goodbye to Martin Hynes, a man who was not only a superb coach, but an even better friend. After years of dedication and service, Hynsey decided it was time to hand the torch over and I know that he was proud to pass it on to Alex Rae who has continued his fine work.

There were plenty of comings and goings over the summer, but I have been really pleased with the squad that we have established and we continue to make gains in both the league and cup. I’m also delighted, as always, with the continuing support that is provided to us by our fans week in, week out. You are the envy of other clubs and we couldn’t be prouder to represent you every week.

Will Hooley:

Never did I think at the beginning of 2018 that I would have experienced the dream of playing international test match rugby.

Looking back on the year, the decision for me to take up the reigns with the USA could not have been an easier one. I remember having a chat with Lee Dickson in our hotel room in Jersey last season, before having made the decision, talking through all the pros and even possible cons.  The games I’ve played in, the people I’ve met and the success as a group (and personally) we’ve had has allowed me to bring those pros to fruition and live ‘the American dream’. Thank god for my grandmother!

My first flight over to San Diego back in late January to join the squad at the Americas Rugby Championship was ultimately quite daunting. Although having met the majority of coaches and players at a camp in Germany in November 2017, this was now the real deal as we prepared for Argentina XV and then Canada a week later in Sacramento.

Two weeks of hot warm weather, incredible Mexican food and two solid wins got our Americas Rugby Championship, and my USA Eagle rugby career, off to a good start. Particularly the game against Canada in Sacramento was a fond memory of my 2018 as it was officially my first cap, welcomed into the Eagle brotherhood and crowned as Eagle number 517. To make it even better, my parents and girlfriend were all there to see it and also see how horribly drunk I was in the evening (initiations are still very much a thing!).

Forward to the summer of 2018 and this really was a personal ‘summer of all summers’. An incredibly tough training camp in Denver’s altitude lead us to a big win against Russia and a win away in Canada a few weeks later. Of course, in the middle of those two games was the highlight of the year! In the sweltering humid heat of Texas we performed the David against Goliath and took down Scotland 30-29. I don’t think I’ve personally been more exhausted in a game but the sheer work rate and belief from our squad was proud to be apart of. We knew we could get a win like this, but finally we actually delivered.

Through that tour I was worked hard and converted to a second play maker from the full back position, something I was familiar with but not hugely experienced. All in all, I loved it with the style we play and am now in a position where I wish to make that shirt my own heading into the World Cup next year.  

To cap off the international season were the November tests that had its own challenge. I don’t necessarily mind travelling but when doing it every weekend, with serious distances to cover, and after playing in tough games, the body and mind takes a battering. London-Chicago, Chicago-Madrid-San Sebastian, San Sebastian-Bilboa-Amsterdam-Bucharest, Bucharest-Munich-Dublin. Plenty of airmiles…also clocked up by my family and girlfriend!

Back at 10 playing against the New Zealand Maori and Samoa were experiences like nothing before for me. Incredibly physical, little time on the ball, and knowing that inaccuracy would be punished. I learnt a lot and came out of it with many positives. A loss to the Maori and then a win against Samoa. A huge win that got a ‘monkey off the back’ as the USA had never beaten Samoa in its history. It came down to a last penalty kick that I had the thrill of making but really we should have killed the game off much earlier.

We went on to then defeat Romania in an interesting location in Bucharest. Personally, I had to pull out of the game the day before with a groin injury that was very frustrating and really feared it would affect the rest of my tour. Luckily, with the help of the fantastic physios we have, I was ‘en route’ to Dublin and ready to get back to play the Irish.

I changed back to 15, gratefully after my groin wasn’t in a great place to do much kicking, and stepped out to the Aviva Stadium to take on probably the current best team in the world. The atmosphere was electric and although crippled with pre-game nerves, by the time the anthems started I genuinely had a feeling that I hadn’t had a for a while in rugby, a feeling of literal excitement and happiness as to where I was standing and the theatre that I was in. ‘This is why you play rugby’ I was thinking.

As a team and even personally, we played well over the first 50 minutes and really challenged Ireland. After that you saw the ability the Irish had to step up another gear or two, open up any weaknesses, and capitalise on any mistakes we made. It was our first test match loss in the calendar year. It couldn’t have been against a better team and the learning curves we had that day will help us going in to next year.

Looking back, it’s been an incredible year to represent the USA. We now sit 12th in the world rankings, ahead of the likes of Italy and Georgia. We had nine test match victories on the trot, regained the Americas Rugby Championship title and big wins against Samoa and Scotland. Personally, I’ve loved every minute, it’s been a lot of hard work but has been brilliant! It’s a massive year ahead with the World Cup in September. I won’t be looking too far to the future but needless to say that I’ll be doing all I can to be at Japan 2019.

Michael Le Bourgeois:

Well what a year it has been!

January started with a long Friday afternoon journey on a Blues coach heading to Port Talbot to face an Ospreys Select XV in the British and Irish Cup. Now I know not many people liked that competition, but it was always good fun for players as we got to go to new places and face new opposition. Just look at the trip we had to Munster last season and that great win over there!

One of my personal  highlights of this year was the trip that the Blues made across to France and Belgium to pay our respects to those who lost their lives in World War One and it was a true honour for me to lay a wreath with Paul Tupai at the Menin Gate Memorial. From there, it was time for some team bonding in Bruges and that really was quite an experience.

As a team, we put in some great performances last season and it was a privilege for me to lead the boys. Winning Championship Player of the Season award was a fantastic feeling, but for me I owe that to the Bedford team and also the freedom of style that Mike allowed us to play.

This then led to a move to Wasps and things have gone very well for me. There’s a great group of lads and I’ve been welcomed with open arms meaning that the transition has been really easy and comfortable. I’m just enjoying playing and being part of another great team, and rubbing shoulders with internationals and Lions day in day out isn’t to bad either haha!

Looking forward - for me it  is just about continuing to challenge myself, to keep trying to improve my game more and more and, of course, make sure I’m always enjoying it!

Next Home Match

Saturday 21st September
1st XV Cup
Goldington Road