Despite recruiting 14 new players and a new coach, Ollie Smith has said his new-look Bury St Edmunds side are targeting promotion to the GK IPA Championship.
He was speaking ahead of the team’s first 2017/18 fixture in National League 2 South, at home to newly-promoted Tonbridge Juddians on Saturday (3pm).
“There’s been a lot of changes, including the head coach,” he said, having replaced Jon Clarke, who did not oversee a game before leaving for personal reasons.
“It means we have a lot to learn about each other and playing together but it also means lots of fresh faces and fresh ideas.
“If you don’t keep changing and growing you stagnate and that’s what we need to avoid if we have any promotion ambitions; which we, of course, do. I want to get promoted, we’re not aiming to finish mid-table, that’s just defeatist from the start.
“What’s the point in competing if you don’t think you can win? You definitely won’t if that’s your attitude.
“So that’s the aim, but you get what you put in at this level. The desire is there, but it’s too early to say what will happen yet.
“With a team this new it’s really hard to judge where you are until after that first game.
“So our main focus in pre-season has been on core skills and fitness.”
He also spoke about the impact of an influx of French and Italian players over the summer and how a language barrier had not significantly developed, as rugby is the language they converse in.
“We are dealing with a bit of a language barrier,” he said. “Although they aren’t as bad as in years gone by as everyone learns English so well at school.
“Plus, rugby is rugby at the end of the day so that’s the language of the dressing room.
“I have been working on getting them all mingling together and forcing them to learn, otherwise it would be too easy for cliques to form I think.
“We are a bit like the United Nations this season, which is great as we have lots of styles and ideas to bring together.
“When I was playing in France I didn’t learn enough of the language and I don’t want to see that happen here,” Smith added.
He said that English lessons would be an option for those finding it more difficult.
“We’re providing a lot of support to everyone,” he said.
“There has been a lot of changes, which is an important move for us to make the step up, but we want to make sure everyone is on-board too.
“And Chris Snelling remains our club captain. He’s been here so long and knows everything there is to know.
“He’s an important player and character in the team.”
He revealed that Matt Edison, who had been linked with a move away to Cambridge, had also returned with the former first-team captain signing a new deal.
Smith said, however, that he had not yet decided on a first-team captain as he hoped one would naturally emerge over the course of the first few games.
“I will make my decision in the next few weeks,” he said. “But it’s important not to rush it and make the wrong call.
“Players that look great in pre-season can crumble under the pressure of a real game, and the same can be true in reverse.
“Some players need the drive of a game to get focused.
“We’re a club in limbo, waiting to get the season going and see how we fare.
“Tonbridge are a very good side but that’s not my worry, it’s about us and how we play.
“We’re going into the first game a little apprehensively — or at least I am — because of all the unknowns. A lot will be new and different but the one thing I will want to see is passion and desire.
“I want to see them want to win, if you have that, you’re already halfway there and the rest is hard work.”
The game is on Saturday at The Haberden (3pm).
The club has also announced that Servest, a global facilities management business based in Bury, will be the club’s new main sponsor.