As the calendar ticks over to September, the start of the new Rugby Championship season is on the horizon with Bedford Blues looking to improve on their 3rd place finish in the last campaign.
After an impressive 2018/19, the Blues will see familiar faces in Jersey Reds, Cornish Pirates and Doncaster Knights.
The first league game being against Yorkshire Carnegie on 13 October. But there are three cup games before that.
Their toughest challenge however will no doubt come from Newcastle Falcons, who were relegated from the Premiership last season and boast the likes of former England fly-half Toby Flood in their ranks.
Ealing Trailfinders will also be a threat, finishing 2nd in last year’s standings behind London Irish, 17 points ahead of the Blues.
Also new to the Rugby Championship are local rivals Ampthill, who were promoted from the National League 1 as champions last term.
Ampthill’s home ground at Dillingham Park, with a capacity of 3,000 will be hosting the Blues on 14th December with the return fixture on Boxing Day at Goldington Road.
As for the squad, prop Sean McCarthy, who joined the Blues from Jersey in 2017, has been installed as captain after the retirement of Lee Dickson.
New signings include Joe Atkinson, a highly sought after flanker who signs from Wasps as well as Charlie Reed who takes the step up from Loughborough Students and brings experience from his time with the Sale Sharks Sevens team.
After losing Ben Cooper and Camilo Parilli-Ocampo, the Blues had agreed a deal for Scarlets prop Scott Jenkins, however that move has been cancelled due to the Welshman’s injury problems.
Although the Blues have signed promising young forward Henry Paul from Esher, they may well need another forward to bolster their scrum.
An additional challenge for this season will be the temporary absence of American international Will Hooley, who will undoubtedly be a big part of the USA national team at the World Cup as he faces the likes of France, Argentina and our very own English side out in Japan.
First up though is the Championship Cup; in its first season replacing the British & Irish Cup, with Bedford drawn in a pool alongside local rivals Ampthill, Coventry and Ealing with the top two from each pool going into the quarter-finals in February.
Talking about the upcoming fixtures, Blues and Championship chairman Geoff Irvine said, “We had a fantastic season last year with a third placed finish and we’ll be doing all that we can to continue pushing for the top spot while also battling hard in the cup.
We’ve got a tough draw, but with a much more local edge this season, every round will be like a final.”
Season tickets are still available but with the Blues becoming a more and more popular attraction within the Bedford community, tickets are selling fast.
Bedford’s first competitive match is against Ealing in the cup on 21 September at Goldington Road following a tough pre-season game against Cardiff Blues on the 14 September.