Cambridge ‘not surprised’ to be leading the way

Cambridge are 11 points clear at the top with seven games of the season remaining
©Chris Fell

Director of Rugby Rowland Winter says he is ‘not surprised’ that his Cambridge side are top of National Two South heading into the final two months of the season.

Having finished seventh last term following relegation from National One, Winter’s men now have the target of the league title in their sights.

They currently sit 11 points clear at the summit of National Two South having won 20 of their 23 matches this season and are on course for a return to the third tier of English rugby.

“To be top at this stage of the season hasn’t really come as a surprise,” Winter said.

“The surprise was probably the disappointment of not being able to finish higher last season. This year we came into the season expecting to win every game. That is not arrogance, it’s just the belief we have in the club.

“We know we have got a really good team and the fact we were able to retain 28 players from last season has only helped us push on and we’ve added one or two players who have experience which has also aided us.

“We thought we should’ve pushed on last season, but we had a poor start where we lost six of the first eight games, but we won 17 of the last 22.

“We really did build on that great run by carrying it into this season. If you look back over the last 18 months, we have only lost four games.”

Winter announced in January that he will be leaving Cambridge at the end of season to take the Director of Rugby role at National One side Coventry.

Winter has been at Volac Park for three years and has built the team back up towards the third tier of English rugby and now wants to end his time with the ‘Blood and Sand’ with a promotion and the league title.

The 30 year-old said it was a tough decision to make halfway through a season, but the players have not been affected by the announcement.

“I joined Cambridge three years ago,” added Winter. It has been great to be a part of this project, but the Coventry job was just too good to turn down. It was a very tough decision because I am immensely proud of what we have done as a club over the time I’ve been here.

“The club has a great ethos and that currently is stronger than ever. The announcement I made has not deterred us away from our aims this season and we have remained fully focused and the players and coaches have been excellent. We have nearly reached our target.”

And that target is close to being achieved as Cambridge prepare for their home fixture against the sixth placed the Old Elthamians this weekend.

Other than Bishops Stortford, the OE’s are the only other side to take points off the league leaders this season and Winter is seeking revenge at Volac Park on Saturday.

He added: “They are only one of the teams that have nicked points off us this year. We underperformed massively when we drew at their place. Many of the boys are back in the side who have been missing for the last couple of weeks.

“We think we know the OE’s well enough and they are a talented side that are going to cause us a lot of problems so we are prepared for a huge battle across all areas of the pitch, but we are confident of getting the result.”

Elsewhere in National Two South this weekend, second placed Old Albanian will be looking to close the gap at the top while Bishops Storford and Taunton Titains need wins to keep their play-off bids alive.

Down at the bottom, anything other than a win could see Launceston relegated while just above them, the race for survival heats up once again.

Old Albanian v Canterbury

The Old Albanian are back in action this week looking to hunt down Cambridge and keep the title race alive. They are second in the table and welcome 12th placed Canterbury to St Albans this weekend.

The OA’s do have a game in hand over the league leaders, but they must improve on one win in their last four games if they have any title ambitions.

As for Canterbury, they arrested a four game losing run last weekend away at Launceston and will be looking to move away from the relegation zone this Saturday. The City Men are five points clear of the relegation zone, but will have to be at their best to get anything from this fixture.

Bishops Stortford v Clifton

Bishops Stortford’s promotion aims have suffered a setback in recent weeks. Back to back defeats against Taunton Titians and Worthing Raiders means Storford are now eight points off the play-off place having played all 23 of their games this season.

They are back at Silver Leys on Saturday where they have won 10 of their 11 games this campaign and they are ready to host a Clifton side that returned to winning ways last weekend.

The South Gloucestershire outfit were on a run of just one win in eight games, but put a stop to that with victory over relegation threatened Southend Saxons. Clifton sit eighth in the table and have won just one away match all season.

Redruth v Taunton Titians

If Bishops Stortford’s promotion dreams had been knocked in February, the same can be said about fourth placed Taunton Titans. After victory over Stortford, their play-off ambitions were back on track, but two straight home defeats against Chinnor and Cambridge leaves the Titans nine points adrift of second place.

They have played the same amount of games as the Old Albanian as well, but their immediate focus will be on trying to get a result against an in-form Redruth side at the Recreation Ground.

Redruth have been solidly consistent this year which explains why they are fifth in the league. Six wins from their last seven league games puts them joint second in the form table and considering they have lost just once at home all season, they will be a tough nut to crack for the Titans on Saturday.

Bury St Edmunds v Barnes

Another team which has had a very good season are Barnes. Promotion via a play-off brands most teams with a tag of relegation favourites, but not Barnes. They have been sensational in the second half of this campaign and that shows as they sit seventh in the league table and 17 points clear of the drop.

Barnes have lost just one of their last eight games and travel  to fellow London and South East side Bury St Edmunds, who were promoted alongside Barnes last term.

It hasn’t been as straight forward for Bury though. Five defeats on the spin saw them fall towards the bottom three of National Two South, but they since have ended that run.

Back to back wins against the Old Elthamians and Clifton means they are now five points clear of the relegation zone in 11th place. They will be looking to stretch their recent good form this Saturday as they aim to progress further away from the trap door to National Three.

Chinnor v Worthing Raiders

Chinnor sit 13th in National Two South and they are just one place above the bottom three. Having said that, they are only six points behind ninth placed Worthing Raiders who are their visitors this weekend.

It has been quite a turnaround for Chinnor over the last few weeks. They were 15th in the table at the end of January and now they are out of the bottom three after four wins from their last five games.

After strong victories, including wins over second placed the Old Albanian and fourth placed Taunton (where they shattered the 18 month unbeaten home record of the Titians), they will be confident of continuing their revival this Saturday.

Worthing are going through a decent spell at the moment. Three wins from their last five games as moved them away from any trouble they might have been in and they are now only three points outside the top half of the table.

They head to Chinnor looking for their 11th win of the season and their fourth on the road and if they are to achieve that, it would look as though the Raiders would be safe in National Two South for another term.

Dorking v Redingensians

It has been a bleak 12 months for Dorking. From National One hopefuls to the bottom three of National Two South, it certainly has been a year to forget for the side.

Currently, Dorking sit in the final relegation spot in this division and are four points from safety. They have won just one of their last five games and have tasted victory just four times at home this campaign. Their home form needs to improve if they are to stay in this league and they can start to put things right with a win this weekend.

It will be tough for Dorking as they face a Redingensians side oozing with confidence at the moment. The Rams were in the relegation zone a few weeks ago, but four straight wins now leaves them six points off the drop in 10th place.

After promotion into the division, it has been a slog for the Redingensians so far, but they are going through their best run of form at just the right time in the season and may well be confident about getting a result in Surrey on the weekend.

Southend Saxons v Launceston

The bottom two in National Two South face each other this weekend on the south coast, but both are in completely different positions in terms of aims for the rest of this season.

The hosts Southend are currently eight points from safety having won just six of their 23 games this season. The Saxons have got to improve on one win in their last 10 games in order to stand any chance of staying in National Two South, but it is certainly not all over for them just yet in the race for survival.

The same cannot be said about their opposition this weekend. Launceston travel to Warners Bridge Park rock bottom of this division knowing that anything less than a win on Saturday will see them relegated to National Three. The problem is that the away side haven’t picked up a victory all season.

They are winless from their 22 matches and are 38 points from safety. Relegation is all but confirmed for Launceston who will now want to end the campaign with some pride by picking up a couple of wins along the way.

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2019-20 National League 2 South Points Table