CORNISH All Blacks’ head of rugby, Jimmy Tucker, says that they haven’t even discussed promotion as they prepare for their first campaign outside of the National Leagues for 18 years.
The Polson Bridge-based club have suffered two consecutive relegations from National Two South and will play in South West One (West) for the first time since the 1999/2000 season when they stormed to the title.
Although many fans might expect an instant return to the South West Premier (formerly known as National League Three South West), Tucker, who has been in charge since November 2015, is determined to continue rebuilding the club and build on the end of last season, which nearly saw them pull off a miracle and avoid the drop.
Tucker said: “We know that the first part of last season wasn’t good enough and that’s what cost us. We turned it around post Christmas and nearly pulled off the great escape, but it wasn’t to be.
“Looking forward to this season, we haven’t been set any targets as a coaching staff by the board and we haven’t discussed promotion once. We’re focusing on pre-season and getting fitter, making the boys better players and improve aspects of each of their games and continue to improve the team spirit and camaraderie around the club.”
When asked what he expects from the division, Tucker believes that it will be equally as difficult as last year as the club look to plot their way back up the English rugby pyramid.
Tucker said: “I am expecting a very tough season against good teams who aren’t going to sacrifice points or roll over. We know a bit about Okehampton and Bideford but apart from that, very little.
“But not much changes from last year. We’re going to have to go to grounds and play in front of small crowds and deal with that and try to come away with victories.”
While crowds may be sparse on their travels, the All Blacks continue to enjoy an excellent home support, and Tucker is determined to repay them.
Tucker added: “Certain people are going to expect promotion again and that may happen but look at what happened last year. We know that we’re privileged to play in front of a big crowd and we’ll look to repay their support.”
Although their league opener at Keynsham isn’t until Saturday, September 2, Tucker has organised three pre-season friendlies, starting with a trip to Newton Abbot next Friday night (August 11) before welcoming Camborne and Wadebridge on the following two Saturdays (August 19 and 26).
Tucker said: “Pre-season can be long and it’s easier to motivate players when they have friendlies to look forward to. We’ve got a good mix of opposition and the games against Newton Abbot and Camborne will be a good gauge for us to see where we’re at. Although we played them last year, they approached us so we’ll prepare well and we look forward to playing them as we get ready for Keynsham.”
Pre-season training for rugby players are often brutal, but Tucker has been delighted with how it’s gone so far.
Tucker said: “Throughout May and June, Ryan Westren ran a voluntary fitness session on a Thursday night and the turnout was excellent and we’ve been in pre-season training since the beginning of July.
“I want the players to be familiar with how we play, be as fit as we possibly can be. have an excellent defensive structure so we’re hard to get through and then when we’re with the ball we just want to go forward. In rugby if you’re not going forward then you’re going to struggle so we need to work individually and collectively to make sure we do that with and without the ball.”
Despite relegation, the All Blacks have managed to retain the nucleus of their squad with only fly-half Fraser Honey and on loan scrum-half Sam Stevens departing Polson Bridge, while flanker Lloyd Duke remains as captain.
Tucker said: “We’ve not gone out looking for too many players. We’ve got Ben Hawke back after shoulder surgery and Ben Stansfield has returned after a year of travelling. We needed a new scrum-half and Dom Mulberry has come up from Saltash and we’ve also got most of the Colts from last year with us, so we have plenty of players to choose from.”
After a couple years of hardship, Tucker believes that the club is making progress and hopes that the people of Launceston will continue to back the club.
Tucker said: “We want the club to get back to where it was and we want to do that by supporting local players so that the fans and youngsters can relate to them.
“We want the clubhouse to be bouncing after games with everyone enjoying each other’s company and hopefully we can do that.”