After flirting with relegation from Midlands Division Two East (North) last season, the 2013/14 season promised to be a challenging one for Bakewell Mannerians Rugby Club in its 85th year.
It was something of a surprise back in August when the new management team of Martin Pearce and Mike Dabell, together with coach Chris Weeks and incoming skipper Jack Duncan, announced a target for the season of fourth place in the league.
With the league season at its half way point, Mannerians find themselves in third place in the table - the team’s highest ever position.
And while the players can look back with some satisfaction at the season so far, according to Dabell there is no sense of this being job done.
He said: “We are still very much a club in transition, so the success we’ve had has been a bonus. We’ve recruited hard, and our new players are making a big impression across the club as a whole.”
Going on to name names, Dabell added: “In Seb Cooke, Chris Taylor, Sam Head, Ollie Cunningham, Connor Longson and Tom Culley we have some young players who are enjoying the step up to adult rugby. They are learning from the more established characters, and the forwards have undergone a transformation this season.
“Chris has got us playing some good rugby as a club - we don’t look at it as being two teams anymore. And the fitness sessions at the new born2move gym, together with my Strictly Come Dancing contests, have given our guys the edge going into the last quarter of games.”
Surprisingly enough perhaps, the management identify the 1st XV’s massive loss at Crewe & Nantwich in the cup as being a key turning point.
“On that day it was a really close call as to whether we should play the game,” recalls Pearce. “We had a lot of senior players unavailable and it would have been easy to forfeit.
“But the fact was we still had nearly 40 players wanting a game so it would have sent entirely the wrong message to these players and to our rivals if we had cried off. Yes, the firsts lost heavily, but a lot of youngsters came through with credit and the seconds had a big win at Amber Valley.
“The following week the firsts put 70 points past Stamford, and the season really kicked on from there. There is a real buzz about the place.”
Bakewell went into the Christmas break unbeaten in six, which included victories on the road at Loughborough and Oakham.
January will be a testing month for the club with a cluster of tough fixtures coming up, starting on Saturday against Stamford.