They went into battle with hopes of challenging for promotion, but St Ives found themselves fighting for survival instead.

Tom Ransom gets airborne to win a lineout during St Ives’ success against Melton Mowbray. Picture: PAUL COXTom Ransom gets airborne to win a lineout during St Ives’ success against Melton Mowbray. Picture: PAUL COX

The highest-ranked local club were in the Midlands Division Two East (South) drop-zone for much of a season brought to an early halt by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Despite being hit by a stack of injuries leading to a frequently changing side, they surged out of the bottom two in recent weeks to stay up.

Reflecting on a campaign which was considerably tougher than expected, director of rugby, Phil Brown, said: “We were able to surprise a lot of teams after our promotion in 2017/18 and finishing third at this level last season was a great achievement.

“Naturally, there was a lot of chat about the potential for the 2019/20 season, but those of us with greyer hair knew that this season would be tough.

Tommy Newman in action for St Ives during a defeat against Leighton Buzzard. Picture: PAUL COXTommy Newman in action for St Ives during a defeat against Leighton Buzzard. Picture: PAUL COX

“That said we did not foresee struggling against relegation. It is fair to say that some key retirements and exits from the club affected the balance of the squad.

“We have also been very lucky in previous seasons to avoid serious injuries, but this season we seemed to get payback.

“Not once have we been able to select with a clean bill of health and we still have a number of regular first-teamers absent through long term injury.

“On the plus side, this has led to the integration of many newcomers to the side. It’s taken a while for the new combinations to bear fruit and start our climb up the table.

Warwick Brittany races down the wing for St Ives in their narrow defeat against Market Bosworth. Picture: PAUL COXWarwick Brittany races down the wing for St Ives in their narrow defeat against Market Bosworth. Picture: PAUL COX

“The early closure of the season was a shame as momentum was returning, but it will give time for injured guys to recover for whenever the next season starts and add to competition for places.

“As a club, we have been delighted to attract more than 20 new senior players to Somersham Road.

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“The 2nd XV started the season with a glut of victories. With their squad then answering the calls to fill for the 1sts, there have been some struggles in recent weeks, but overall a very good season.

“They have played some great rugby, reflecting the efforts of coaches John Naylor and Max Dominy to instil a club style.

“The 3rds have played a handful of games as Bulls and in true rugby spirit, those enjoying social rugby have joined frequently with men from Sawston to ensure 15 guys get rugby on a Saturday.

“This initiative and growth in 15-a-side matches has been well remarked by county officials as many clubs face declining opportunities due to numbers.

“Naturally, we are disappointed that we won’t be defending the Hunts and Peterborough Cup (1sts), the Cambridgeshire Plate (2nds) or the Golden Boot (3rds/Vets), but I guess we can say we’ve held them all for two seasons until they are contested again.”

Attention is now turning to the 2020/21 campaign – whenever that may be.

Not only will the Bulls aim to progress on the pitch, there are major developments taking place off it.

“Next season will be bright,” continued Brown, probably with no pun intended.

“We have the floodlight installation being completed during April and will have a grand opening in late August. Plans are also afoot for the addition of a permanent gym at the club. “Adding to the improvements already made, and as the highest-level competitive club in the local area, we feel sure that we’ll continue to attract players.

“We welcome those looking to play a good standard (1st XV), push for that squad (2nds), as well as those who want to play as and when they can (3rds).

“We’ll ensure all enjoy their rugby at whatever level they wish to play.”