ROB LAWRENCE reflected on Chichester RFC’s first season in the National League and said: We have stability – but we can do better.
The Blues finished seventh in National three London south east but their pride at a solid season was tempered by the knowledge they were second just after the halfway stage.
Now they aim to learn some harsh lessons of life at the higher semi-professional level and aim higher next season, with the squad likely to be boosted by a clutch of new arrivals before the 2015-16 campaign begins in early September.
Lawrence said: “It’s been a long, tough season and I must admit I have mixed feelings looking back on it. We often played better against stronger teams – like winning at home to Bury, the eventual worthy champions – but have had to grind out results who have ground us down.
“We had two close games against Barnes, now promoted, but lost a lot of games by close margins, which shows what a competitive league this is.
“We’ve never given a complete performance over 80 minutes. We’ve been excellent in 60 per cent of games but need to turn that into games where we are excellent for 100 per cent of the time.
No game is a given at this level. Every one is a challenge mentally and physically and the players now know more clearly what’s required.Head coach Rob Lawrence
“Given that we were second at one stage, we’ve under-achieved since then – but there is still pride in what we acheived overall. If we’d started at the bottom and worked our way up to seventh we’d be ecstatic. But the fact we proved ourselves early then didn’t keep it up is different.”
Lawrence pointed to a succession of serious injuries to key players as a factor but said commitment was another – not all players gave 100 per cent commitment to training and the squad every week.
“Injury-wise we lost all four of our starting second-row players, and unlike some at our level, we can’t get out a chequebook to deal with it. Unavailability and long-term injuires have been frustrating, but the latter has to be expected in a tough contact sport where you’re playing bigger, stronger teams than before.
“No game is a given at this level. Every one is a challenge mentally and physically and the players now know more clearly what’s required.
“This group of players can do better – this club can do better. People have to clip my wings sometimes and slow me down and it is about evolution not revolution. But we can’t stand still or settle for seventh place every year.
“If I were a player in this squad I’d be thinking we could go for promotion next year. There’s no need to be fearful. First we must look back at last season’s games –ones we won and why we won them, as well as ones we lost.
“The squad has evolved and needs to evolve again. We need to re-energise and focus again. With a few additions – maybe as many as seven or eight – we can challenge.”
Lawrence vowed the Blues would keep giving the club’s youngsters first-XV chances – a number of their former juniors were in the team last year despite not yet having reached the age of 20.
He said he had learned more last season than in the previous three put together and couldn’t wait for pre-season to come around.
“Our biggest challenge is adapting to semi-professional sport at an amateur club. We can’t lose our philosophies and heritage but must embrace chance,” Lawrence added.