Bury St Edmunds head coach Jacob Ford looking to lead new-look Wolfpack to promotion after signing released Northampton Saints U18s hooker Fin McCartney ahead of Canterbury opener
Jacob Ford heads into his first season at Bury St Edmunds excited to see what his new-look squad can achieve together in a fresh era for the club.
But as they prepare to return to National League 2 South action for the first time in 18 months – having ended in a club record sixth after Covid-19 halted 2019/20 early – an historic promotion is the firm immediate target.
Canterbury will visit the GK IPA Haberden tomorrow (3pm) for the season opener as a side who were playing in National League 1 last time out, providing an early examination of Bury’s title credentials.
But head coach and now director of rugby after Nick Wakley’s exit, Ford, who was in charge of divisional rivals Westcliff last time out, is keen to not only deliver on promotion but to do it with a style that excites their home crowds.
“Obviously we want to get promoted but it is really important to me we do that in the right way, with good people and an exciting brand of rugby,” said the 23-year-old who heads up Ipswich School’s rugby programme and is the brother of England player George Ford and son of Leicester Tigers assistant coach Mike Ford.
“We have some fantastic talent out there and they are really coming together as a team.
“It is exciting to see where we can go with it and how we will develop over the next few years.”
Five new players were announced last week and two more have followed, taking the total of signings this year to 13.
Fin McCartney, a hooker who has been training with Cambridge this summer following his release from Northampton Saints Academy, having been playing for their under-18s, has also signed.
“He is a fantastic player,” said Ford.
Meanwhile, Ford has also agreed a deal to bring in Ben Penfold from National 1 neighbours Cambridge, who beat them at the Haberden in a final pre-season friendly on Saturday 29-17, as a particularly ‘big one’.
He said: “He is a fly-half who has come over as a club coach co-ordinator and first-team backs coach.
“He can play at 10 or 12 and has 120 caps for Cambridge, but is only 26.”
Penfold will not be included in tomorrow’s match-day squad though, having only just come out of a Covid-19 isolation period.
Stephen Herlihy, Hayden Hutchinson and Fin Bonas are all local-based players who have been promoted from the club’s junior academy to the senior squad.
But a couple of Bury’s high-profile signings will not get to make a competitive appearance for the club.
Tom Varndell, who signed as the Premiership’s all-time leading try scorer in a player-coach role in May 2020, has decided to hang up his boots to focus on his player agency career.
Meanwhile, Samoan 7s international Paul Eti-Slater, whose arrival was only announced at the end of July, has taken up a contract offer in Romania.
Of tomorrow’s opponents Canterbury, Ford said: “We expect a strong set piece. They are going to be physical and well-drilled around the park and I expect them to be one of the top teams in the league. We will have to be at our best.”
Meanwhile, departed Terry Sands has given his backing to the recent restructure of the Pro-am section and reflected on his 17 years at the club.
Read his full statement, released exclusively to Suffolk News, here.