Notes on a new beginning
The season itself has been a culmination of investment in along term strategy from the Club management and a desire to be ambitious withinthe league system.
Dominant displays against Redruth and Henley in September started the ball rolling and the manner of those wins was a pleasing start. In previous years we have perhaps had what might be deemed as easier starts, and got into a run where we did not have full comprehension of the true range of teams in the league. This time September was unbeaten and with two contenders played against.
The seasons biggest blip at Tonbridge (a) occurred directly after, but strangely, the moments towards the end of that game where a bonus point was driven for in the dying moments were also crucial. It is often the case in these promotion pushes that hindsight gives you the benefit of understanding that all points were important. This Losing Bonus point here, the one at Henley and the point at Redruth were all carved out on endeavour and were the three points difference when the CO-Vid 19 siren sounded. It is a perfect illustration that every league point is hard fought, and every one as important as another. November saw two losses at Esher and Leicester, - both being turgid affairs in poor conditions although our lack of accuracy in the strike zone was the key determinant. The fixtures in November and December had delivered six at home and two away, so we were well aware this was always going to be a challenging time. Keeping perspective on those Away fixtures was important, and whilst losing 3/6 with Redruth also being played out in monsoon conditions just before Christmas, being in touch at the turn was key in lieu of our fixture run.
Our defensive record after Christmas began to bear fruit and this was one of the key changes with the team becoming meaner. At this stage,the team were under constant pressure of not being able to lose – but stuck to the task in the hand on a week to week basis. Two moments here will always live with me, - the chance to give a better account of ourselves to Tonbridge which we took in a clinical fashion, and the game away at Clifton were the performance of the season took place as defence and accuracy saw us through against a resurgent Clifton side.
Most will see this achievement through the lens of the 2019/20 season. However, if we forgot about that particular structure it has been a near 180 game time period during which there have been milestones which connect to the outcome. The issue with league rugby is that spectators and media often focus on short term results as opposed to long term progress. That said, it’s a tightrope, as a coach, if you get those the wrong way around, the idea that you will see any long term progress is slim. Significant signs along the way are consistent top four finishes, players moving on to professional contracts and a blossoming reputation. Add to that a low player turnover and burgeoning support, and it is easy to see the fundamentals behind success.During that 180 games, there have been great games, where we have hit high notes and dismantled good teams such as Hartpury, Ampthill, Chinnor et al, -but the real change this year has been consistency – where we have strung together results and not slipped up to teams who others don’t lose to.Genuinely we have been lucky to have around the characters along the way who have all contributed to our DNA. From Manton to Turner ( not a passing combination I promoted) to Gatford, Fleming,Davies, Woolmore, Frost, Claxton, Plummer to name a few, -each of them have a story which connects to our heartbeat. We have characterised ourselves as a team which works hard and everyone has owned that. In the end, this years team took the reward, but the foundations and building blocks were put in place by many along the way.
Success has been built on an investment in the coaching process and individual self improvement at local level. This has made the time investment greater but the sense of satisfaction higher. The final forward pack as an example this year takes its roots from Honiton, Weston, Taunton, Crediton and Exeter. There have been no players brought in from overseas, no big money signings and no sugar daddy hand outs to players or coaches. This has not detracted from the process and in fact, has been a reminder that teams and clubs are built and not bought. Persuading individuals that the investment is worth more than an extra £50 a week or more money at a lower level has been a fundamental driver to our success this year. The bi-product of selling the dream is that it tends to attract the sorts of player who are invested in being with a group of like minded players who put challenge and growth before cash and kudos. In the end, the group that got us over the line had a great age profile, had considerable combined experience in the league and a durable body which committed regularly to training. I wondered whether the group would have a moment when they began to believe collectively, and for me that time was from January 1st, but notably from Tonbridge at home. This was the final piece in the jigsaw which saw the machine drive itself week to week.
The chapter is complete, the bell has rung and the journey has reached it’s destination. Interestingly, whilst we can compartmentalise this experience in National league 2, a new journey has begun which will begin in the same way, with small steps both on and off the field. What we are guaranteed is a trip which encompasses improvement, learning and experience which will drive the club and it’s ambitious teams forward. How do you know what’s over the edge if you do not have the courage to look and examine the task at hand ?
.Approaching this challenge will take patience and time to adapt at the next level – but with the work ethic and environment that has been built by Tony, I have no doubt we can be successful. We do not believe there are any secrets to success, or for that matter shortcuts. We are fully aware of the task at hand, but appreciate that our experience has taught us that hard work,attention to detail and committed attitudes will take us a long way to being successful.
It is only right that we thank everyone who has been involved with investment on and off the field. The players have driven this,the coaches have directed it, the sponsors have backed it and the supporters have championed it. Every member of the wider team has been essential, from the backroom to the kitchen to the groundsmen to the committee and so on. The important thing moving forward is to understand that our role is still to the collective and all of us can make a difference. We look forward with huge anticipation to the challenges ahead with great pride in what we have achieved to date and a determination to push standards higher. I am sure by the time this lockdown is over, the players will be itching to get out and stretch their legs in the league above – which drives the excitement to even greater levels. It is also important that we mark our achievement and endeavour with due diligence,in a number of ways. We don’t want it to eclipse the start of the season, - but rightly, - we have earned the right to a celebration or two, - from the can swigging in the changing room to the black tie of the lounge – this will not be overlooked ! Thanks once again, and I look forward to seeing everyone connected with the rugby club in the near future.
Stay Safe all