Ambitious Buxton Rugby Union Club are confident they can continue to make giant strides during the new season, which kicks off for them on Saturday.
The Stags enjoyed a season to remdember in 2015/16 when gaining promotion in the National League, lifting the Derbyshire Cup and even reaching a national final at Twickenham.
In front of a crowd of more than 1,300, they might have lost the Junior Vase showpiece 50-0 as Thames Ditton opponents Old Cranleighans turned in a masterclass of rugby, scoring eight tries.
But the fact that Buxton even made the home of English rugby was indicative of the progress the club has made under their director rugby Karl Degroot.
And he says he is relishing the fresh challenge this term as his side move up to the Midlands 3 East (North) division. Their fixtures begin on Saturday with a trip to play Chesterfield Panthers, which is followed the following weekend by their first home match of the new campaign against Grimsby. Panthers finished fourth in the table last term, while Grimsby were sixth.
“After Twickenham, we lost ten players for various reasons, including retirements,” said Degroot this week. “But we are coping well. We’ve got a few new guys in and things are going really well.”
Among those new guys is Steve Riddlestone, who has been recruited to the coaching team after being snapped up from Northwich club, Winnington Park.
“Steve is doing a great job,” said Degroot. “We asked him to work on skills and I am fully behind what he is doing. He’s got a great work ethic and provides accurate feedback, so we are totally aligned.”
The Stags have had to endure a frustrating period because holidays and family time have impacted on player numbers at training sessions. But there has been a trade-off in that it has allowed some players to receive better-quality personal coaching.
Degroot is also pleased with the way his side’s tough warm-up games against higher-level opposition have gone. They lost 19-7 to Matlock and 22-10 to Glossop, but they beat Ashbourne 22-7.
“We were pleased with the outcomes,” he said. “For the past two years, we managed only one pre-season game with a bare 15 players, so to get three quality games in, with squads of 18 to 20, shows real progress.
“We lost two keenly-contested matches in poor weather, which doesn’t suit our style, and against opposition effectively two levels above us.
“But the players should be really proud of their performances. There is lots to work on, but we were really pleased.”
Buxton are under no illusions that they will face a much more difficult task than last season when they ran away with the Midlands 4 East (North) title, winning all 18 matches and scoring 753 points. But Degroot is convinced the signs so far are looking very encouraging.