Cambridge were crowned champions of National One on Saturday for the first time in the club’s history after a 59-10 victory over Birmingham Moseley. (Photo Credit: Chris Fell)
After a very edgy and nervy opening 30 minutes, three tries before the break from Joe Green, Kwaku Asiedu and Anthony Maka released the pressure valve at Grantchester Road.
The Blood and Sand knew coming into this contest that nothing less than a bonus-point win would seal promotion to the Championship and the all-important score came two minutes after the interval through National One’s top-try scorer Asiedu.
Batsirai Zindi did pull one back for Moseley but Cambridge then found their rhythm as Kieran Duffin, Ben Brownlie, Will Priestley, Green and Asiedu completed the job in style.
Cambridge ended the season level on points with Rams RFC and won the same amount of games as the Berkshire club but they finished on top of the table by virtue of having drawn more matches (1) than their fellow promotion rivals.
— National League Rugby (@Natleague_rugby) April 29, 2023
Cambridge boss Richie Williams told The National League Rugby Review Show: “It has been a long time coming. I think today [Saturday] is actually the first time we have been on top of National One. We’ve spent the majority of the season chasing down two excellent sides in Sale FC and Rams.
“We were visibly nervous in that first 20 minutes. We made a lot of unforced errors. It has been difficult to have that mental capacity to keep churning out the wins and picking up five points but never really closing that gap on the teams above us but huge credit to the players. They delivered as they have done for most weeks of the season.”
Four years ago, Cambridge survived relegation from National One on the final day of the season – Williams’ first campaign in charge of the club – but following the Covid-19 pandemic, the Blood and Sand made huge strides, culminating in promotion to the Championship.
“It is a great achievement,” added Williams. “I have been a little bit lost for words. We have dreamt of this moment for probably five years.
“I remember speaking to you when I first started about having this sort of vision for the club. There have been some dark times. My first season, in particular, was really difficult but a big thank you to the club for sticking with me. I think a big part of the success we are seeing now is those difficult times we had in the first year.”
With the long-term future of the Championship still an unknown, it is an obvious cause of concern for many in the lower leagues but for now, the Blood and Sand are looking ahead to an historic season in the second tier.
“We were at Plymouth [Albion] last week, and we were asked repeatedly do you want to come up? Of course we want to go up,” said Cambridge chairman Rob Dean. “Look, when we go up, we will have a good time and if we stay up, fantastic. If we come back down, we are coming back down to a fantastic league.”
Cambridge president JJ Jeffrey added: “It [this season] has exceeded expectations. We were really pleased last year when we came fourth and then we wanted to go better.
“We are excited we are going up. We don’t know what the Championship is going to look like in a couple of years, we don’t know what is going to happen at the end of the season but we are just going to make the most of it. It will be our centenary season and we are going to enjoy it.”
Another exciting element for Cambridge is they will be involved in the Premiership Rugby Cup next season with the new 24-club format designed to “grow audiences” in the Championship and “perform a crucial role within the English game.”
“It is a massive motivating factor [taking a team from National One to the Championship],” Williams said. “We will look at the success Caldy have had this season [finishing 10th] and the model they have used. That is sort of encouraging for any team coming up from National One.
“I think for us we will have to make some changes on and off the field but I would like to think with the personnel that we have got here with a couple of new recruits, we will be competitive in the Championship.
A good days work🍷 https://t.co/FXqsLTzagP
— Richie Williams (@RichieWills10) April 30, 2023
“It is something we will attack. We will enjoy playing the likes of Ealing and Bedford and Ampthill, and potentially Wasps. We have the lure of the Premiership Cup as well so it is all stuff that we can touch. It is tangible whereas before today [Saturday], it was all pie-in-the-sky thinking.
“We will have to do some serious planning but we will enjoy it for now.”
The jubilant scenes at Grantchester Road capped off a brilliant National One campaign while in National Two North, Rotherham Titans clinched a top-four finish after a thumping 40-10 away win at Sheffield Tigers.
In their final game of the season, Titans’ Dan Rylance scored a brace while rivals Otley fell to a 24-22 loss against Tynedale.
The Yorkshire outfit held a slender five-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes but a red card shown to Sam Waddington was punished by Tyne as Seamus Hutton’s converted try snatched the win for the visitors.
Over in National Two East, Old Redcliffians rounded off a superb second half of the season with a 33-14 triumph over Bournville.
This latest win for the Bristol outfit extended their unbeaten run to six matches as tries from Jonathan Cook, Jalen Curry, Tom Ford and Sam Taylor punished a red card shown to Bournville’s Ethan Walker as Dan Cox’s side completed the term in eighth place.