James Sanderson believes if Hull Ionians are to bounce back from a difficult season in National One, it will be key for the current squad to stick together. (Photo Credit: Malcolm Moorhouse)

The I’s gained promotion back to the third tier of English rugby last year following a superb campaign in National Two North, but the Yorkshire side are now facing an immediate relegation back to level four.

The men from Brantingham Park will have their fate sealed if they fall to a defeat against Blackheath on Saturday and with the trapdoor looming, Sanderson admits the club want to continue building their squad next term.

“I do think there is a clear vision for the club,” Sanderson said. “We do have a good group here and it is now about building that team ethos as much as we can because we do want to be a National One club.

“We need to keep this group of players together because this season, we came into it with only about five of us having experience in National One. We have guys who have played in National Two and even as far down as North One East.

“For us to achieve what we want to, we have just got to stick together as a group and that means making sure we turn up to training and matches and just enjoy it.

“I don’t think last year we really expected to come up. Maybe it came a year too early and we weren’t able to build a squad. We lost a couple of players too so if we can keep together, it will help moving forward.”

As Sanderson alludes to, he is one of only a handful of players to have experienced National One before with Hull Ionians and once again, it has been a tough campaign for the side.

With seven games remaining in their season, the I’s have secured just one victory all term – with that triumph coming against Canterbury back in November.

Last weekend, the Yorkshire club could have doubled their tally against the same opposition but despite tries from Lewis Minikin and Sanderson himself, Mike Umaga’s side couldn’t prevent a fightback from the Kent outfit.

“I think it is hard to pinpoint why we have struggled,” adds Sanderson. “We have a small squad and have had a couple of injuries, but we don’t have the resources like other clubs do to cope.

“It has taken a while for us to acclimatise and adjust to the pace of the game. We know anyone can beat anybody in this league, but it has been tough for us to put 80 minutes together.

“In games, we have been ahead at half-time but every time we speak about it, we fall behind. I don’t know if it is a mentality thing, but it has been tough. Other teams have been able to close games out whereas we haven’t.”

Hull Ionians’ relegation from National One might be imminent, but rugby paled into insignificance over the Christmas period for the club following the tragic death of 1st XV player Billy Hardy.

This weekend’s fixture with Blackheath was moved from January due to Billy’s funeral and Sanderson said it has been a difficult time for the club.

He added: “We are a close group and it really did hit us hard. Quite a few of the lads had played with Billy for a long time. Losing him had a big effect. He was one of our first choice centres so it was an emotional time for us as a club.”

The I’s will now be looking to enjoy their final few games of the season and they will be keen to add at least one or two more wins to their name before the conclusion of the campaign at the end of next month.

“We have got seven games left so we have to enjoy it,” Sanderson said. “We’ve known our fate for a while. Like I said, keeping the boys together is something we’ll look to now, but at this moment, we want to just enjoy our rugby.”