STRENGTH has been the name of the game at Castle Park this summer.
Brett Davey has been determined to add strength to his forward line and build a squad with strength in depth.
And the Knights’ director of rugby is delighted with his summer business as he heads into Saturday’s Championship opener at Plymouth Albion.
“We recognised two things in particular from last summer that we wanted to guard against,” Davey said.
“We massively ran out of steam after a really good start last season and that was largely because we just didn’t have the numbers once a few of the key lads went down with injury.
“And there were a few games that slipped away from us because we just didn’t have the strength in the forwards which cost us.
“So our focus was to work within the budget, get a decent sized squad together and the right players for what we want to do this season.
“The size of the budget and the nature of the game means we have to bring in a lot of young players but they are a very promising bunch.
“It’s an exciting thing to be able to develop these lads and help them fulfil the potential they have.
“Hopefully they’ll be here for a long time but if they use us as a stepping stone to the Premiership it means that they’ve done well for us.”
The summer began with major upheaval at the Knights as 19 players departed the club.
But despite the exodus Davey believes this has been the most stable pre-season he has had at the club.
He said: “We’ve known exactly where we are and what we’ve got to work with right from the start which hasn’t been true in the past.
“Having such a big turnover in players has allowed us to take a step back, look at what we have got and target areas to work on.
“It was a blank canvas in many ways.
“So we’ve been able to put together a group of big, strong and powerful forwards and young exciting backs.
“We’ve always liked to try and play entertaining rugby here but we will also be able to do things that are necessary at times to ensure you win.
“This is the first squad I’ve had that I can hand on heart say is fully mine and I’m excited about that.”
After falling to a disappointing eighth placed finish in the Championship last season before going on to lose all six play off games, Davey’s main goal for the new season is noticeable improvement.
Changes to the Championship structure mean only the top four sides will enter the play offs while the British and Irish Cup now has added financial incentives.
“I want to finish higher in the table and maintain a good standard of form across the season,” Davey said.
“I think we’re capable of pushing into the top four but we know it’ll be tough.
“We showed for a good stretch of last season how competitive we can be in that division and I think we’re better placed to sustain a similar run this season.
“We definitely want to do well in the B&I Cup and get at least to the quarter finals.
“It’s always been an afterthought really in the past and you’ve just thrown at it what you could and whatever came from it came.
“It definitely needed something doing to it and I think they’ve done well with the decisions they’ve made.
“It’s going to be a competition that is wide open and we’ll be doing our best to get as far as we possibly can in it.
“We’ve got a lot more flexibility in the squad this season which will help us do that.”
The Knights closed their pre-season preparations with a 54-9 defeat at Premiership side Gloucester on Saturday.
The hosts showed their class in the second half with 33 unanswered points but the Knights made a game of it before the break, testing their lofty opponents with a decent demonstration of physicality.
Jamie Lennard landed three first half penalties for the Knights.
Davey has a starting XV in mind for this weekend’s trip to Plymouth Albion but has called upon all his players to force their way into the side.
He said: “I’d say I’ve decided on about two thirds of the team but I was waiting to see that final friendly to make my mind up.
“We’ve got a competitive squad which is what we wanted and it’s up to all the players to play their way into the team and do well enough to justify being picked again.”
The drawn out relegation of Newcastle Falcons has resulted in a team dropping into the Championship whose budget dwarfs that of many of their rivals.
Newcastle are understandably favourites to win the division while Bristol are also expected to do well again after suffering play off heartache.
“Newcastle are going to be strong because they’re budget is huge,” Davey said.
“When we played them in the friendly a few weeks back one of our lads was up against one of there’s who earns twenty times more – that’s what you’re dealing with.
“Bristol will be strong again I’m sure because their budget is also big but I think there is a definite opportunity to get into the top four.
“I prefer not to talk about other teams and concentrate on what we’re doing and I think we’re good enough to give it a real go.”