Head coach Rob Lawrence has left Chichester Rugby Club – but says the first XV are in great shape to bounce straight back into the National League following relegation to London one south.
The former Wasps player has been player-coach, head coach and rugby development officer since returning to Oaklands Park in 2009 but said it was time for him to move on to a new challenge.
He said the fact he had a growing young family, coupled with the fact he is based 90 minutes away from Chichester, meant he needed to move on. But he admitted to a tinge of regret he was leaving after relegation because it was certainly not the case that he was ‘jumping ship’ because of it.
The club will have a new head coach for the 2017-18 season, which sees them back at the level from which they were promoted in 2014.
They have had three seasons in National three London south east and held their own for the first two before being narrowly relegated in April.
Lawrence, 32, said: “I felt now was the time to move on. It’s primarily because my young family has grown and I have a day job too and I need to change my priorities. That was the biggest factor and I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”
Lawrence intends to take up a coaching role at another club but a new post is not in place yet. And he has not ruled out a return to the Blues in the future.
“I’ve had some great times with Chichester. We’ve had a strong squad of guys who have been committed to the cause and it’s been a pleasure to work with them,” he said.
“I hope the club can move on quickly and I think they’re in great shape to come straight back up to National three.
“Everyone’s been positive about my decision – some have said ‘Don’t go’, others have said ‘This will be great for you’.
“I don’t feel we deserved to go down last season. Within a tight budget, we did amazingly. The margin of relegation was narrow and if we hadn’t had five points taken off after an admin error, we’d have stayed up. It was a challenging season.
“The three years in the National League have been a lot of hard graft but overall they are part of what I think has been a successful period for the club. Someone told me we’ve had 128 wins, four draws and 60 defeats in my time back.
“I still feel Chichester could have gone higher, and still could – up to Worthing’s level.
“There is a bit of regret I am leaving after reelgation. I don’t want it to be taken as me leaving because of relegation. I’d be moving on now whatever had happened.
“We’ve had testing times but everyone has battled so hard. I’d be happy to coach Chi even if they were in the Sussex League.”
Lawrence said CRFC was a ‘family’ and he hoped it could grow stronger, with plenty of representation from men, women, boys and girls who wanted to play rugby.
He said it needed more people to get involved behind the scenes – and more money coming in to keep it evolving.
Lawrence said many people had given him huge amounts of help in his years at Oaklands but he did single out president Keith Martin and director of rugby Paul Colley as two had been particularly supportive.
“I’m leaving with pride but also with a sense that I’m grateful to have been involved,” he added. “The club means a lot to me – it’s been a huge part of my life.”
In his playing days, Lawrence represented London Wasps, England under-18s and England universities, Henley, Havant and Heathfield.
Chi kick off the new season at home to Sevenoaks on September 2 and go to Tottonians a week later. They host a biug derby at Oaklands Park against Havant on September 16.
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