Chichester RFC believe they are on the brink of something special as they bid to bring national-league rugby to the city.
New head coach Rob Lawrence, who doubles up as rugby development officer, reckons there is an exciting season in store as the club set up a 60-man elite squad and make progress on plans to expand their Oaklands Park HQ.
There’s a new first XV captain, some prestige pre-season friendlies – starting this Saturday with a tussle with Staines – and a new partnership with the Royal Navy which may lead to Chichester giving the sailors a warm-up for their annual Twickenham clash with the Army.
Chichester have twice gone close to promotion from London one south and will make another big effort to achieve it this season.
Lawrence, who learned his rugby in Chichester’s junior section before going on to play for Wasps and for England at four different levels, said: “This team and this club aspire to great things, but it has to be evolution not revolution.
“We’ve finished third two years in a row and want to improve on that and get promotion, but we will need to work very hard and play very well to do that.”
Lawrence said the Blues had recruited some excellent players for the new season – including some with Premiership experience – and were confident the new elite squad would benefit them. The 60-man outfit will goverm selection of the first, second and third XVs, all playing league rugby, and increase competition. The whole squad will train together.
Lawrence added: “We’re halfway through our pre-season and the squad are looking sharp.
“The way we play will essentially be very simple. It will be good basics, done well. And we will play a quicker game than anyone has seen at this club before.
“We’ve no delusions of grandeur. We’re a community-based club who aim to be a beacon for sporting spirit. There is a very positive feeling around the place right now.” Paul Colley continues as director of rugby while Jon Lindsay is the new first XV captain, having come through the junior ranks. Jimmy Taylor will be second XV head coach and skills coach, with naval commander Paddy McAlpine assisting him with second VX coaching.
The Blues will play home friendlies at Chichester College and the city’s university as part of their growing relationship with both organisations. Lawrence will also be head coach of the university’s first XV and head of the college rugby academy.
Plans are with the district council to expand the clubhouse. More space is desperately needed to accommodate the growing number of players and members – particularly in the colts section, which has getting on for 500 young players.
Youth rugby is vital to the club’s future and Lawrence runs a private company Driving Force which is taking rugby to the young masses – including to areas around Chichester where football tends to dominate.
The club are searching for more sponsors to help fund their plans – and Lawrence appealed to anyone who had not sampled match day on a Saturday or colts action on a Sunday to get along to Oaklands Park and see how they could get involved.