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McAvoy has big plans as he prepares for second season at Blues helm

Newbury Blues head coach James McAvoy is looking forward to his second season at the helm of West Berkshire's biggest club.

Blues are back in training ahead of the new season, which begins on September 2.

McAvoy's side recovered from a slow start last season to finish fourth and will remain at the same level this term, although a restructuring will see Blues start in a different league.

Newbury Blues head coach James McAvoy
Newbury Blues head coach James McAvoy

Newbury will compete in the London and South East Division - Regional 2 South Central League alongside the likes of Chichester, Farnham, Guildford and London Irish Wild Geese.

Alongside a number of new teams, Blues will take on local rivals Reading while there's also a standout trip to Jersey, who won their league without losing a game last season.

And McAvoy feels Blues are well-placed to build on last season's solid foundations.

"It's really exciting," McAvoy said.

"I think the one the boys are most looking forward to is that trip to Jersey.

"We've also got a lot of local teams and a couple of derbies, so there are a lot of good challenges ahead."

McAvoy is heading into his second season in the Blues hot seat and his third year at the club, having worked under Paul Archer - who will be taking overall charge of the Stags next term - in 2021/22.

Last season's pre-season was blighted by baking sun, which meant games across the country were cancelled after the RFU imposed a ban to ensure players' safety.

While McAvoy has implemented the necessary precautions in case the UK gets hit by another heatwave, he's hopeful Blues can complete a testing warm up campaign that will see them host Swindon and Rams next month

He said: "We were slightly undercooked going into the first game last season.

"That wasn't really because of a failure in planning, but games were cancelled and the amount we could do in training was limited.

"That might also be the case this year and we have to plan accordingly and not be reactive, so we've invested in things like training mats.

"We've got a good mixture of friendlies.

"Swindon are at the same level as us and I chose them specifically for their physicality.

"We know that Rams are a well-coached team, so we think that's going to be another tough test.

"Like a lot of teams, we'll be getting used to the new contact laws and seeing how we can adapt to them as best as possible.

"We're putting in a lot of work strategically."

McAvoy's had some 40 to 50 players turning up for pre-season training and is expecting more than a few selection headaches come the beginning of September.

"Numbers and the atmosphere have been really positive," he said.

"We've got a number of new boys and I think competition for places is going to be high.

"I absolutely want to have a headache every week.

"We know how good some of the boys coming through from the Colts and Stags can be, so we've got a lot of depth.

"We've got some experience, so we'll be giving some of those players a little bit more autonomy, and some younger lads who are really willing to learn.

"It's about pushing players on to really thrive in a Blues shirt this season."

With a host of new teams in the league, McAvoy's keeping an open mind when it comes to expectations but expects his side to challenge towards the top end of the table again this term.

He said: "We're confident with where we're going.

"We've got lots we can improve on from last season, especially the intensity of contact.

"With all the unknowns, I think you'd be a brave man to put a number on it in terms of finishing positions.

"We will always back ourselves to beat anyone in the league on our day.

"If we're not there to win games and to try and win the league, then we might as well not be there.

"We should be pushing towards the top of the table."

Blues begin their campaign with the visit of rivals Reading on September 2.

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