By Richard Ashton
JAMES Baker believes he used the summer productively as the tight-head prop prepares for Rams’ second season in National One.
The front row received an honourable mention when The Rugby Paper picked their ‘Team of the Season’ last time out, having previously been picked in the starting XV when Rams won National Two South in 2018/19.
And he is looking forward to producing even more destructive performances after healing from some nagging injuries and increasing his power.
He commented: “I was doing a lot of working out from home, body exercises when we were locked in. As it started to ease and the outside gym was available I was down here (Old Bath Road) most days trying to keep fit.
“I didn’t do a lot of running so I put a bit of weight on, but for my position that’s probably a good thing. Now, though, I’m back into the fitness with the running outside and losing a bit of weight will ease the pressure on the knees. I’m just aiming to be fully match fit for when the season starts and we have our first game.”
He continued: “The coaches were in touch a lot during the summer. Joe (Southwell, strength & conditioning coach) had lots of things on the website – his HIITZ sessions – to keep us going. He was also ringing me up and sending me emails to see how I was and giving me a few pointers and tips to help keep me ticking over.
“It was also a good time to get over any niggles I did have, like my shoulder where a nerve was pressing. But with that time off I’m fully recovered and my upper body is fine.
“It’s great to be back and not stuck indoors any more.”
Baker was part of a Rams side which enjoyed a memorable first campaign in National One, the Sonning club ultimately finishing as runners-up to Richmond in the Coronavirus-shortened season.
Looking back on their efforts, he said: “Last year was a whirlwind. Going into the higher league you never really know how you’re going to size up against the other teams. National One is among the top one per cent of rugby in the country and you think ‘will we be able to do it’, but we went into it thinking ‘we’ll take everyone one on and do our best to win’,
“It showed from previous seasons how much we’ve progressed and a lot of the guys were the same as the years before.
“I’ve been here 13/14 years and while there have been new guys coming in, you’ve also got the vanguard who have stayed here even when money was offered to them, they never really took it and that showed what a good, cohesive bunch we have. That showed in the performances we put in last season.”
And looking ahead to the coming season, he concluded: “Being a front row scrummaging is very important so I’ll be looking to dominate wherever I can, and as a team there are certain losses we’ll be looking to rectify. We want to win most games and keep improving.”