TWO top-level rugby players who will lead Chichester’s bid for National League success have declared: We want to make a difference to this great club.
Danny Gray and Ken Dowding, who have around 20 years of professional rugby experience between them, will both be player-coaches for the Oaklands Park squad as they try to make a big impression in their secnod season in National three London south east.
Director of rugby Paul Colley and head coach Rob Lawrence are delighted to have promoted the pair to their new dual roles and say they will help sharpen up the squad and also highight Chichester as a club where young and local rugby players can develop to a high standard.
Chichester’s first season at National League level ended in a mid-table finish, although they had been second at the turn of the year. Now it’s time for what could be a tougher second season among the big boys, and Gray and Dowding are relishing the challenge.
Fly-half Gray started playing rugby at Chichester when he was five and went on to play for Bath, Bristol, Exeter and Worcester, with plenty of Premiership experience along the way. He also played in the England sevens team.
Gray said: “I always imagined I’d come back to Chichester. My family is from Chichester and I always said I wanted to come back and settle down here and help the club that helped me in my career.
“I’ve come back at an exciting time, with the new clubhouse and promotion into the National Leagues. It’s hopefully it’s the start of something pretty special for the club, on and off the pitch.
Being player-coach is different to being a player. A lot of my good friends play here so there could be some blurred lines, but the important thing for me is that they enjoy it and I enjoy it. I always wanted to get into coaching at this level but I wouldn’t want to do it for anyone other than Chichester.”
Prop Dowding has played rugby union and rugby league at a high level, with Birmingham and Solihull, Harlequins, London Irish, Bridgend, Ospreys and Bath all on his playing CV. He has been a regular for the Army and the Combined Services it was his services career that brought him to this area when he moved to Thorney Island.
Dowding said: “My two boys play at Chichester – they’re in the under-14s and under-eights this season. I got involved around the middle of last season and really enjoyed it.
“It was when I was unable to play because of a bad neck injury that I first got into coaching. Recently, Danny and I had a good chat about things here at Chichester and said we both fancied trying to push the club forward in this way.”
Lawrence said Gray and Dowding were already making a difference to the atmosphere around the club and said: “They’ll both be doing the same thing – coaching very, very well and playing very, very well. Ken’s background is with the forwards and Danny’s is with the backs but we won’t be putting those labels on them.”
Colley added: “These two guys come straight out of having played at the top level.”
A core of about 30 potential first-team players have been attending twice-weekly pre-season training, although that number swells to about 60 when squads for the firsts through to the fourth team gather together.
Lawrence, Colley, Gray and Dowding have been encouraged by the commitment shown by players and Lawrence added: “Pre-season is always a time of anticipation. It’s been a breath of fresh air having Danny and Ken engaging with the players and wanting to get involved with everything.
“A club like Chichester hasn’t got to this stage overnight. The coaches that have gone before have worked their backsides off to get us here, but now it’s about moving the club forward. We have some big voices and some really enthusiastic and knowledgable people for players to learn from. What a great opportunity for local rugby players.”
Chichester host Bournemouth in a floodlit friendly at Oaklands on Friday, August 28 (7.30pm) and kick off their league campaign at home to old rivals Tonbridge Juddians on Saturday, September 5.
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