Promotion not end of story for Chichester - it’s the start

Chris Johnson touches down for a try during the second-half comeback  Picture by Chris Hatton
Chris Johnson touches down for a try during the second-half comeback Picture by Chris Hatton

CHICHESTER’S rugby heroes toasted their long-awaited promotion - and were then told: Go and win the next league up.

Oaklands Park will stage national league rugby from September after Chichester beat Eton Manor 25-16 in the London one south play-off on an afternoon never to be forgotten.

More than 1,000 packed around the touchline to see the city club secure a place in National three south, the first time in their 88-year history they have played at such a high level.

But far from thinking of next season as one of survival, head coach Rob Lawrence has challenged Chichester to win the division - and says with support like that seen on Saturday, the Blues can aim to win 13 home matches out of 13.

National three south contains a number of the teams with whom Chichester have gone toe to toe in recent seasons. And the fact the likes of old foes East Grinstead, Tonbridge Juddians and Guernsey have all finished in the division’s top five must give the men from Oaklands great hope.

Lawrence paid tribute to every player, coach, club volunteer and supporter who had played a part not just in the club’s promotion but in their rise towards realising the dream over recent seasons.

He said he knew Chichester would win the play-off even when they trailed 16-7 at the start of the second half.

“We dominated from the start of the second half and I just knew the pressure would tell – I knew scores would come,” he said.

“The first try in the second half brought relief and new belief for everyone and from then on, there was only one winner.

“So much credit must go to the players for the effort and talent they have shown over the whole season. There are so many you could single out.

“But there’s no way I or anyone at the club will treat this as a happy promotion and no more. We’re not going up just to survive.

“Momentum is a big thing in sport and we have to use the momentum of the results and performances of this season, plus that which the unbelievable support of Chichester people gives us. We have to use it to our advantage.

“We’re going to be playing against top players next season but there is huge belief throughout the club. It’s about the next five years - not the next five minutes - and those five years will be a great time to be involved.

“For me, the one failure of this season was that we didn’t win the league. So why can’t we put that right and win National three south next season? I feel very driven and very, very excited by the next challenge.”

Lawrence said he had already given thought to how the squad would need to be strengthened for 2014-15 but he said the club’s approach - which gave local young talent the chance to come through the ranks and get established in the large elite squad serving the first and second XVs - would not change.

One key player who won’t be around come September is legendary No8 and former captain Moses Kasujja, who is retiring because of hip and groin problems.

Lawrence said: “Moses has been a colussus for us over such a long time. And I’d say this - never say never. People have come out retirement before.”