RFC Press Officer Paul Grindrod talks to DOR Steve Hill about the First XV.

All in all, were you happy with our position in the league at the end of last season?

Considering where we were at Christmas I thought we did incredibly well, with a significant improvement in the second half of the season in terms of how we played and the results we achieved. We finished seventh, and crazily if we’d won our last game we’d have finished fifth.

What held us back from finishing higher?

A combination of two things. In the first half of the season we had a number of injuries to crucial people, and though our attacking was good our defensive work wasn’t at the level it needed to be. But the arrival of defensive coach Rob Powell at Christmas had a major impact, and of course we had players coming back.

High points and low points?

The best performance was Fylde at home when we were magnificent, and the lowest point was losing at home to Worthing when we let them back in the game at the end.

If you could turn the clock back 12 months what would we do differently?

I would have wanted Rob Powell from the beginning of the season, if he’d been available. His experience from working full time as Defence Coach at Cardiff Blues has proved invaluable. And we had to start the season without an established, Nat 1 fly half and that wasn’t ideal.

What about the off season – has it been good for us?

We wanted to make the squad more robust, more resilient, so we looked at our strength and fitness regime. We’ve improved it by bringing in Sam Ross from London Irish to lead the team. In addition Tom Farrow has been brought in from Wasps to improve our contact/combat techniques. It’s still early days but the guys are definitely looking quicker and more powerful.

Recruitment?

Fly half was key, and we’ve attracted two players with proven experience in that position at this level and above. We maintained what was effectively the squad from last season, and as usual we had significant interest from players wanting to join. I think we’re still the most attractive club of our type for a number of reasons. The calibre of set-up we have around the players is amazing - I believe no other club like ours has the quality of coaches and physios and back-up staff we have. Then we’ve helped four or five lads get decent jobs, and of course there’s the general ‘feel good’ factor at RFC. Plus we understand the guys have to have balance in their lives and that at this level rugby can’t be all consuming so we allow for that.

How do you want Richmond to play the game?

We want to play ball in hand, to play attacking rugby involving all 15. Some sides play risk free, but that’s not our game. We want to be attractive, both for the spectators and the players, and so we focus on the positive. It helps that this is the strongest squad we’ve had in the time I’ve been here.

So we’re looking even better this season?

Yes we have a stronger squad especially in our half backs and in our back row. However we don’t yet know how strong our opponents will be. We have 50 players who want to play 1st XV and given last years experience most of them will at some time during the season. Our challenge is to ensure the whole squad is able to fit into that 1st XV seamlessly when they are required. Training has to be intense and demanding and the feedback to the players from our coaches needs to ensure they continue to develop and improve.

Who are our scariest opponents this season?

The biggest challenges will come from Ealing Trailfinders, Rosslyn Park, Coventry and Fylde. Of the newly promoted teams Darlington Mowden Park look the most dangerous after their aggressive recruitment during the summer.

So where will we be at the end of the season?

In the four years I’ve been here we’ve incrementally improved every season. Third in level 4 in the first season, in the second year we finished second and won the playoff and were promoted, the third year we finished eighth and last year we finished seventh. The aim is to continually improve so we’re looking for a top 6.

Tips for the World Cup?

The team to beat will be New Zealand, but they can be vulnerable as has been shown in the past. Home advantage for England is a massive plus and it could be our time. It will be incredibly exciting and we as a club must maximise the exposure rugby is going to get. There’ll be lots of rugby people in and around this area and we’re playing through the competition, of course, so we’re in the shop window.

Final thoughts?

We’ve been in this league for two years now, so we have a good idea what to expect and there can’t really be any excuses. But for all that we must continue to have a smile on our faces – a mentor of mine says enjoyment gets rid of fear, and he’s dead right.

And, as always, I’m very grateful to everyone at the club - players, staff, volunteers and most of all our supporters for making RFC the outstanding club it is.

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