Bedford Blues returned to pre-season training on Monday 12 June with Strength and Conditioning Coach Sean Vine putting the lads through the paces in the gym while Mike Rayer, Martin Hynes and Paul Larkin, joined by new faces Alex Rae and Lee Dickson, cracked on with preparations for the coming campaign. We sat down with Director of Rugby Mike Rayer to learn more about what has been going on so far and what lays ahead for the lads.

“Everything has gone really well so far,” says Rayer as he chops tomatoes and onions in preparation for a barbecue that will coincide with the end of the first block of pre-season training. “Having the likes of Alex, Lee, Paul Tupai and Tom Lindsay on board means that the training has been really player driven which is great. We’re given them the exercises to get on with and the senior lads are really stepping up and everyone is working hard on their energy and stamina before we start getting into the detail.

“Everyone has come back in good condition and Sean has done a great job in enhancing that at the end of the opening block of training and now everyone is itching to get stuck into the rugby side of things. We’ve touched on some elements, but there’s now a huge amount of work to do in blocks two and three before we head into the friendlies where we know we’ll be a little  ‘underdone’, but it is all about working up to the opening league game against Richmond in September.

There have been plenty of comings and goings at Goldington Road since the end of last season, so it has been important that the new players bed in quickly. Thankfully, this is something that has happened quite naturally and an afternoon watching the squad playing cricket in fancy dress shows how close this group of players has already come.

“There are a lot of new faces this season, but it’s been pleasing to see everyone coming together in a short space of time. The backs have formed a nice little clique while the forwards do what they do best - props gravitating towards props and back rowers being as competitive as ever. I’m pleased with the Academy lads who have come in and integrated themselves really well.

“There is a good harmony about the place and from a coaching point of view, having Alex and Lee here makes a big difference. Last year it was me, Hynsey and Larks with support from Ian Vass and Ben Gulliver, but they were part time. Having Alex and Lee added to the coaching group means we can evolve and the framework we use can be enhanced by those guys. We’re bouncing ideas off of each other all the time and it’s good to brainstorm and see creativeness coming out of it. That said, we’re all agreed that it is important to get the core fundamentals right in terms of skill work, underlined with plenty of conditioning.

“We often talk about ‘gelling’ ahead of the season and that is what a social event is for. We’ve not arranged a pre-season camp this year, so the lads are ending the first block with a trip to Bedford Park to get up the hill which is part of the Blues DNA, and then come back for a barbecue, a game of cricket, a couple of beers and some time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. It’s going to be important not just for morale, but also for developmental coaching so we can find out a bit more about what makes them tick and for them to learn what we’re all about.”

The Blues recently confirmed their pre-season calendar with fixtures against National One sides Plymouth Albion and Blackheath as well as a clash with European Champions Saracens.

“National One is getting stronger and stronger each year and there’s going to be one hell of a battle for promotion this season. We have strong links with Ampthill and Cambridge and training with them gives us a clear indication of how physical that league is. There’s then the likes of Coventry, Birmingham Moseley and Plymouth who are all showing plenty of ambition to get into the Championship so we know we’ll have some tough games.

“Let’s face it, Plymouth are a Championship club in waiting in terms of their facilities, players and support base and they would be ready to hit the ground running if promoted. I don’t think they’ll be taking anything for granted this season and they are sure to provide us with a stern test. They’ve signed some impressive players including the likes of Dan Mugford, and fair play to Keiran, they played some really good stuff last year and ended up winning their last 13 games to leapfrog Ampthill. The first run out is always good and we’ll look to blood-in all the new guys so they are up and running. It’ll be a day for the debutants.

“Then, of course, we welcome Saracens which is always great fun. We love them coming here and they continue to set the standard both on and off the pitch. It’s great for our players to measure themselves against the best players around and it’s a great day for the supporters as they get to see the some of the best that the Northern Hemisphere has to offer.

“We then round off with Blackheath which was arranged before Shanners had taken up his new role. This will certainly be interesting for us as it will provide an opportunity to almost mirror our preparations for the first league game of the season away to Richmond. We can go through process of travelling as a team down to London, making sure everyone is ready to go as soon as they get off the coach and really enjoying the occasion against what will no doubt be a well organised Blackheath.”

Bedford have been joined by a number of talented youngsters who could be part of the Blues Academy set-up for the 2017-18 season. Winger Ryan Hutler continues his development in the Academy where he is joined by ex-Saracens and Munster scrum-half James Lennon, former Blues and Saints second-row Ben Kelland who has also played in France for Pau. Matt Riddington, centre, was part of the Leicester Academy as well as spending time in France and finished last season at South Leicester. He will be looking to impress the coaches at Goldington Road, as will back rower Joe Britton and full-back Joe Green who were both part of the Saints set-up and featured in Mike Howard’s Testimonial, plus loosehead prop Ben Ibrahim who continues to impress for Cambridge.

The Blues are also looking to continue their close links with Premiership sides Saracens and Northampton Saints which have seen numerous dual registered and loan players pulling on the Bedford shirt over the years. With the Premiership A League details still to be confirmed, Rayer is not ruling out a few more new faces come the start of the season. He said: “We continue to have really positive dialogue with Jim Mallinder and Mark McCall so we will see where that takes us. Even if the A League takes on more fixtures, there are still a lot of boys that need to play rugby.”

Tickets are now on sale for the pre-season fixtures. Online early bird tickets for Plymouth are available now costing just £10 for adults across any area of the ground, a saving of £4 on match day prices. Book seats in the Eagle Stand or Ground Entry for Adults and Under 18s by using the online system here. Pre-match hospitality buffet lunch is available for just £15 per person, subject to demand, and can be booked by contacting Hollie on hollie@bedfordrugby.co.uk or phone 0871 871 1886.

Tickets for the visit of Saracens are on sale now with a £4 online advance discount. Ground Entry tickets will cost just £12 while seated tickets in the Eagle Stand will cost £16 with Under 18s costing £8 for a seat and just £2 for general standing admission. A special two-course hospitality offer for the Saracens match is also available at just £20 per person in the marquee. Simply contact Hollie on hollie@bedfordrugby.co.uk or phone 0871 871 1886.

Next Home Match

Friday 23rd August
1st XV Pre Season
Goldington Road