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Chichester edging towards national league rugby

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Chichester remain on course to bring national league rugby to the city - but their in-form players are being warned: You’ve achieved nothing yet.

The Oaklands Park club are flying high at the top of London one south after starting the season with eight straight bonus-point wins.

But their main rivals for the title and automatic promotion to the national divisions, East Grinstead, have also won all eight of their opening games and have dropped just one bonus point.

Chichester are unlikely to get carried away by their chances - especially as last season they led the table for much of the season but finished third.

But head coach Rob Lawrence is delighted by the results - and the performances that have earned them - as he goes about helping to lead the booming club into a new era.

Chichester’s latest win was a 27-7 success at home to Sidcup last Saturday and it was one of their toughest to date - the bonus point for a fourth try being secured very late in the game.

With the first of the season’s two clashes against East Grinstead coming up next month, the Blues know there are tough assignments ahead - but they believe they are well-prepared to meet them.

Lawrence said at the start of the season he had sectioned off the first five games as phase one, the next five as phase two - and the next ten after that as the critical third phase when the success of the campaign could really be measured.

He said: “We will soon have played the other three sides I believe will finish in the top five. And if we can say we have beaten all three, we will know a certain amount about our season. But there will still be enormous challenges ahead.

“I’ve said before it’s about evolution not revolution. We want to evolve into a club who can perform in the national leagues but it can’t be done overnight.

“A major aim for me at the start of the season was to produce the quickest brand of running rugby the club has ever seen, and I feel we’ve achieved that 75 per cent of the time over our first eight games.

“I want us to continue that - whatever the opposition and conditions. We’re not going to stop playing our natural fast game just because it gets a bit muddy!”

The Blues have been badly hit by injuries.

New skipper Jon Lindsay is out until Christmas with a torn Achilles, Jack Taggart’s recurrence of a knee injury will keep him sidelined for the same period, Richmond signing Tim Cook was ruled out for two months by an injury picked up in his first game and Jack Bentall’s broken thumb will put him out for up to six weeks.

Chris Johnson, Nick Shopland and Matt Corrigan are others who have been hurt - but the new, large elite squad from which the first, second and third XVs are selected is proving its worth.

“Our strength in depth is coming to the fore,” Lawrence said. “The second XV are top of their league and the thirds were top until last weekend in a league where they are up against a number of other clubs’ first XVs.

“All in all the players have shown themselves what they can do and the coaches have worked very hard to get them to that stage. Our job as coaches now is to make sure those standards are kept and that every player goes on trying to be better.

“The character, spirit and bond is strong. The players are enjoying playing rugby. I think we’ve scored some of the best tries Oaklands Park has ever seen - 15-man tries which are a credit to the team and the coaches.”

Lawrence believes local rugby fans like what they are seeing - up to 500 people have watched some games - but he wants even more Chichester people to come and support the team and see what the club are trying to achieve.

A Ruby Force day is planned later in the season for an army of members and volunteers to spruce up facilities, while Lawrence’s Driving Force coaching outfit continues to run sessions for youngsters across the district, with a week-long camp at Oaklands next up during half-term.

RUGBY REPORTS Page 107

 

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