A sixth-placed finish at their first attempt in the third tier of English rugby exceeded all expectations at the club, including those of OEs’ Director of Rugby. Now Lach is already busy planning for next season as he looks to strengthen the squad ahead of the all-important second season.
“I said before the start of last season that I wanted to finish in the top half of the table,” Lach said, “so to finish sixth was a fantastic achievement by everyone involved. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“However, now the hard work really begins. I say every year that the target is to show year on year improvement as a club. By finishing sixth in our first season in National One, we’ve set the bar pretty high already!
“Last season, we were an unknown quantity - no one knew what to expect from us. But we’ve lost that element of surprise now, so I have no doubts that next season is going to be even tougher. I do not want us to suffer from second season syndrome where we think we did all the hard work last season.
“There are no easy games in National One and with the arrival of Chinnor, Cinderford and Sale who we know well, and Rotherham in the division, it’s going to be incredibly difficult next season.
If we are to improve on sixth place and establish ourselves as one of the leading clubs in Nat 1, our preparations between now and the start of the new campaign, on and off the field, have to be absolutely spot on. Sam [Howard] and I have spent many hours pulling things together to make sure, we hope, we are on the money!”
The retirement of hugely experienced first team forward trio Ian Kench, Mike Denbee and Aaron Liffchak, and the departure of Truman Sullivan, Will Robinson and Rob White to Tonbridge Juddians, has left Lach with some not inconsiderable gaps to fill in his squad.
But he has moved quickly to strengthen the roster which could see as many as 10 new faces arrive at College Meadow in time for pre-season at the beginning of July.
“I want to thank them all for their outstanding service to the club,” Lach said, “They have been absolutely integral to our success and rise up the rugby pyramid in recent seasons. Liffy will continue in his coaching role with us which is fantastic news, and I’d like to wish the other five all the best for the future.
“The good news is that 42 players from the 1st and Extras squads have re-signed for next season and with the bulk of our successful Under-18 side progressing into the senior section as well, we are putting together a new side - a ‘development XV’ - which will play in Kent Invicta One next term. With the Bulls finishing third in Kent Premier West last season, that gives us four sides playing a good standard of league rugby.”
The OEs boss, who has strengthened his coaching team with the promotion of lock Adam Preocanin as a forwards coach to replace Ian Kench, hopes to finalise his squad in the next couple of weeks and admits he is delighted with the signings he has made so far.
“Eight have definitely signed and we are waiting on one or two more,” Lach said. “There are several players with Championship or Premiership experience and these we hope will freshen up the squad and add much needed strength to certain areas. With 30 games in a season you need to have strength in depth and competition for places throughout. I think the last month of the season showed we were very weary and depleted in certain areas - we limped over the finish line.
“We will start to announce the new signings in the next few days. Hopefully, alongside the quality we already have in the squad, they will give us fresh impetus. I’m excited to see what they can do!”
Updated 15:39 - 15 Jun 2018 by Jon Edwards
The club have also changed their pre-season itinerary for the first time in several years. The squad will begin with a visit to National Two South side Bury St Edmunds on August 11th, followed by a three-day training camp in Jersey ending with both 1st and Extra 1st XV matches against Jersey Reds on Saturday, 18th August. There will also be a midweek game for the 1st XV squad on Wednesday 22nd August although the opposition has yet to be finalised.