ROB LAWRENCE has told of his pride at how Chichester have adapted to life in rugby’s National League – and how it is tempered by frustration at missed opportunities that could have put them top of the table.
The Blues head into Saturday’s massive visit to Barnes in fifth spot in the 14-team National three London south east, still with an outside chance of second place and a promotion play-off.
They have scored some memorable victories over the top teams in the league, but have suffered too many defeats against struggling sides and in games they had chances to win.
It’s a case of mixed feelings for Lawrence, the club’s head coach and rugby development officer, but he has urged his squad to have a big final push in the final seven matches to give themselves a chance of a second staight promotion.
The Blues are only nine points behind the side currently in the play-off sport – London Irish Wildgeese – and Chichester visit them on the last day of the season.
Lawrence said: “I have a lot of pride in what this group of players and this club have achieved over the past year. We’ve succeeded against the best teams the league has to offer – we’ve beaten three of the current top four and hope to make that four out of four at Barnes on Saturday.
“But I’m also fuming at missed opportunities – games we could and should have won.”
At home, Chichester lost to Hertford, Barnes and Tonbridge Juddians when they perhaps should have won all three. They also drew with Tring to surrender more points. Since Christmas they have lost at lowly Guernsey and Tring.
The other side of the coin has seen them notch superb home wins over London Irish and, in their last home game, old Sussex rivals East Grinstead and go on a three-match away winning run.
Lawrence said: “We’ve suffered through unavailability and that includes injuries, family commitments and holidays, and we’ve been unlucky in that respect positionally, in that we’ve lost, for example, two key props in one weekend and four second-row players for several weeks.
“We’ve weathered the storms and the physio team have done exceptionally well.
“Everyone’s telling me we should be happy to be in mid-table – some felt that was always our realistic aim – but I’m not like that. I look at where we are but also where we could be.
“We want to be at the same level as Worthing, the highest-ranked club in Sussex, in we are not a million miles away. But we need to be winning 75 per cent of games – anything under that is under-achievement.
“I always expect us to do better than many expected and although the odds on getting top spot are very long, second place is do-able.
“We’ve had games where we’ve been in control but not gone on to win and we must learn from that. But my disappointment at those games is tempered by a great deal of pride at how players have stepped up to the mark and competed and shown their commitment more than ever before.”
Lawrence said there were many players who deserved praise in all areas of the team. “Everyone has been pretty consistent – we’ve been most consistent up front but there’s been some real brilliance and flair from the backs.”
After Saturday’s trip to Barnes, Chichester host Gravesend on Saturday week.