Sam Bixby and Craig Burrows reflect on pleasant surprise promotion for Sudbury Rugby Club
Captain Sam Bixby and head coach Craig Burrows both admit earning promotion to the National League set-up with Sudbury this season was not on their radar back in September.
But Saturday’s 64-19 success on the fringes of Watford at Old Haberdashers confirmed their spot at a revamped Level 5 (Sudbury set to go into National League 3's Regional 1C) for 2022/23 with two games still to play.
One of those is the visit of former head coach Ben Scully’s Norwich on Saturday (3pm) for the club’s final home game as a London League side, having finished seventh in 2019/20.
A delayed RFU restructure this summer will mean at least three teams from London 1 North are set to go up.
Although the champagne will be waiting for them to leave the field, Burrows’ side are set to keep their foot on the pedal in case leaders Shelford should blow up. The latter can confirm the title with victory this weekend, at home to second bottom Leighton Buzzard.
While their promotion has been richly deserved, with Suds having led the way at the top for most of the campaign and now broken the 100 point barrier, it was not a nailed up target before a ball was put in play.
Burrows, who took over from Neil Dachtler at the start of the campaign, following a move down from Level 4 Bury St Edmunds, said: “When I started at the club there were never any goals of getting promotion.
“It was just about finding our feet and assessing where we were.
“As I have said before, the boys bought into the club and the game-plan and it has been really successful and enjoyable.
“I suppose if you are doing things out on the park that can lead to bigger and better things.”
Bixby, their Sudbury-raised captain, has tasted promotion with Bury St Edmunds twice before but admits this one is all the more sweeter.
“I think at the start of the season if you had said we would finish in second place and get promoted I would have bitten your hand off,” the hooker or second rower admitted.
“I did not expect this at all, at the start of the season the target was to try and get in the top four.”
The former Great Cornard schoolboy added: “I think a big part of it is that 90 per cent of the boys are home grown.
“We have all played with each other before and sort of bred that Sudbury spirit that has come into our games.”
Bixby had started the season alternating the captain's armband with Frazer Beckett, who had been named as the captain prior to Burrows taking over the key decisions from Neil Dachtler and Dick Sumner.
And he was delighted to have been given it on a full-time basis earlier this year.
"It has always been my childhood dream to be the captain of my childhood club," said the player who now lives in Bury St Edmunds.
"As soon as Craig said about it I wanted to be it.
"At the start of the season Craig was not really abolut too much and Neil and Dick had decided on Frazer and Craig came in and said he wanted me to do a bit as well as he knew my qualities from our time at Bury together."
Sudbury have lost their last two home games among just three defeats this term but they are certainly looking to bow out in front of their own supporters on a high note this weekend.
Burrows said: “We want to end the season off on a massive high and take that through to next season.
“We scored 47 points in the last 40 minutes (at Old Haberdashers) so we are in good shape and we just want to keep that momentum going.”
He added: “Unfortunately there was no champagne but I am sure there will be this weekend with it being a home game and there will be celebrations.”
It is set to be an unchanged squad for Saturday to reward the way they finished in Hertfordshire.