Chichester’s rugby return marks new bid for promotion

Rob Lawrence believes changes to the set-up at Chichester RFC will help bring the prize of the title  Picture by Kate Shemilt C121019
Rob Lawrence believes changes to the set-up at Chichester RFC will help bring the prize of the title Picture by Kate Shemilt C121019

CHICHESTER’S rugby players will return for pre-season training next Tuesday to be told: Go out and win us the title.

The Oaklands Park outfit are targeting the London one south championship and promotion to the national leagues to make up for the heartbreak of their promotion near-miss last term.

After missing out on a play-off by the narrowest of margins, they have launched a shake-up of their squad and coaching structure which they hope will ensure success this time.

A strength and conditioning coach devoted to the elite squad is one of a numer of changes the Blues have made, while they are poised to recruit a big-name former international as a first XV player-coach.

First-team head coach and rugby development officer Rob Lawrence said: “Ultimately I hope the the expertise and enhanced coaching structure within the team will allow us to achieve greater player and team development.

“We aim to have fitter, stronger, harder, faster, technically-sharper and highly-skilled players.”

East Grinstead ran away with last season’s London one south title while Basingstoke pipped Chichester to second place - and a promotion play-off they went on to win - on the final day, despite the Blues producing one of their finest victories of the season at Dover.

Lawrence said: “I was very proud of the effort and commitment of all the players last season and of the progress we made as a club. The first, second and third XVs were all outstanding.

“But I was very flat when I reflected on things after we missed out on the play-off. We need to reinflate from that flat position.

“Now we have made changes which we firmly believe will help us get where we want to be.”

Chichester are already playing at the highest level they ever have, but are keen to flex their muscles at a higher level still - though Lawrence stresses they do not have money to throw at it, so it has to be evolution not revolution.

This season’s elite squad will be the pool from which the first and second XVs are selected. A ‘senior’ squad will serve the third, fourth and fifth teams.

Lawrence will be assisted by first XV attack coach Jimmy Taylor and defence coach Mike Kent, while a new and vital role of elite squad strength and conditioning coach will be taken by fully-qualified Aaron Davies.

There will be two first XV player coaches - Tim Cook for the backs and the unnamed ex-international for the forwards.

Second XV head coach will be Stuart Anscombe, assisted by Paul Sutherland and Paddy McAlpine.

Lawrence said: “We want to be the best-coached club in the county.”

Jon Lindsay will again captain the firsts, Martin O’Callaghan the seconds.

The physio and sports therapy work will be shared between Danielle Ritson, Ashley Stokes and April Fossey.

Keith Martin and Paul Colley continue as chairman and director of rugby respectively.

A new, revamped gym opens next week as the players begin their pre-season programme and new members are welcome at competitive rates. A sports therapy clinic will be open for business on August 1.

As reported last week, Chichester are keen to open their doors to anyone who wants to get involved either on the playing side or behind the scenes as a volunteer or sponsor. All are welcome to attend one of their twice-weekly training sessions at their HQ - these run from 6.30 to 8.30pm every Tuesday and Thursday.

Lawrence said: “It’s a huge year. Our focus for the elite squad is the first XV league title and the second XV being in the top three and winning 80 per cent of games in their new league, the Canterbury Shield.”

Pre-season friendlies are still being arranged. Details of these and a full Loondon one south fixture list will appear in the Observer soon.