CHICHESTER’S rugby players are being told they have nothing to fear in the rest of their maiden National League campaign.
And head coach Rob Lawrence says if they can be more focused and clinical, there’s no reason they can’t be among the pacesetters as th season reaches its conclusion.
The Blues got off to a terrific start in National three London south east, winning their first four games and continuing the momentum seen when they won promotion from London one south via a play-off triumph last spring.
They then hit a brick wall, losing three and drawing one in their next four. Another home hiccup followed but that was sandwiched by two excellent away wins – leaving Chichester comfortably placed in sixth position in the 14-team division as they near the halfway stage of the campaign.
Lawrence believes their next group of five games will determine whether they can keep pace with the top teams or face a late-season battle to survive.
“We’ve had ups and downs but in the majority of games, we’ve had enough opportunities to win. But at times we’ve not been clinical enough not focused enough.
“We’re more than capable of competing but there is room for improvement.”
Before the Blues began their first-ever season at this level, some at the club predicted they would be one of a large group of teams not in the top three and not in the bottom three, but fighting for the best places in between. But as things are panning out, there’s no top three racing clear.
Lawrence said: “We need to keep at bay thoughts of back-to-back promotions – it’s important we keep our feet on the ground. We’re having a good seasonbut there’s frustration at errors we’ve made and games we’ve lost that we should have won.
“With slightly more focused performances against Hertford (lost 30-23), Tring (drew 37-37) and Barnes (lost 28-25) we wouldn’t be far off the top.
“Any team that goes on a run in the next few games will be favourites to win the title, and there are up to six teams who can do that. So these next few are critical.
“We’re grounded. There’s plenty more to achieve and the environment we have created breeds success. The core of the squad is pushing to do more, so at the end of January, let’s see where we are.”
The Blues host second-placed Bury St Edmunds on Saturday and Civil Service 1863 on December 20, either side of a visit to Westcliff.
Lawrence praised the players who had secured promotion last season for showing they were capable of performing at the higher level, and was also delighted with the impact new recruits had made.
The return of Danny Gray, a former Chichester player who has come back to Oaklands Park with significant Premiership experience under his belt, has been key but Lawrence said many others were proving their worth.
He said: “We’ve been a little nervous against bigger teams but we don’t need to be and hopefully the players can see that now. We can be confident of giving every opponent a good game.”
Chichester’s second XV are also having a good season in their league, producing players in form who are knocking on the first team’s door and keeping regulars on their toes.
Lawrence also praised the home support for turning up in big numbers – though he admitted three home defeats would have put some off returning and it was up to the squad and the coaches to get them coming back, and increase the fanbase further, by playing entertainin g and winning rugby at Oaklands.
As reported in the Observer, the £550,000 project to revamp the clubhouse – which ties in nicely with the first XV’s rise to the national divisions – is on schedule, with work well under way to give the club and city a sporting hub to be proud of.