The Old Boys welcome Cinderford to College Meadow tomorrow (kick-off 3pm), still in the title race after last Saturday’s impressive 40-9 win at Caldy cut Ampthill’s lead at the top of the table to four points.
At one stage of an incident-packed afternoon, the title race looked to have been blown wide open again after Ampthill found themselves 20 points down at home to third placed Rosslyn Park - only for the leaders to score two late tries and snatch a 21-20 victory.
While OEs' slim Championship hopes are still alive if they can win their remaining three fixtures and Ampthill slip up, Director of Rugby Gavin Lach admitted he had an eye firmly on next season.
“I’ve always tried to get my business done as early as possible at the end of each season,” Lach said. “And plans are already well in hand for the 2019/20 campaign whichever division we are playing in. We will announce new signings in due course, but more importantly, aside from a few retirements, the bulk of the current first team squad have all re-signed for next season already which is great news as we look to build again. Most of the squad were here during our National Two promotion-winning season in 2016/17 and they’ve adapted superbly well to the increased demands of National One.
“We always talk as a squad about year-on-year improvement, and whatever happens on the field between now and the end of the season, we will have improved on last season’s sixth placed finish. So we know we are continuing to improve and grow as a club; we are in good shape.”
For the first time in their history next season, the club will have a full-time head coach. Current incumbent Sam Howard is leaving his role as the Head of Rugby at Eltham College to go full-time with Lach's management team at Elthamians from September - another sign of the club’s ambition according to OEs DoR.
“Sam has had a huge impact in the three seasons he has been at the club,” said OEs DoR. “His full-time appointment is a hugely significant step forward for Elthamians as he can devote more time to implementing coaching structures throughout the senior section as well as help with the progression of our successful Colts squad into the senior set-up. It’s a hugely exciting period for the club.”
For now, however, Elthamians' focus is firmly on the visit of Cinderford to College Meadow tomorrow - another must-win game for the club.
This is the Foresters’ first season back in National One after romping to the National Two title last season and they are currently in 10th but only seven points off a top six spot.
When the two sides met in the Forest of Dean before Christmas, Elthamians produced arguably their best display of the season in a strong gale to win 32-12 and Lach is looking for a repeat performance from his side this time around.
“I have a huge amount of respect for their Director of Rugby Paul Morris, who is a good friend of mine, and the tremendous job he has done at Cinderford,” Lach said. “They are a quality outfit on and off the field and you know when you play them that it is going to be as tough a game as any we face in National One.
“We played very well down there before Christmas, but they caused us plenty of problems, especially in the first half. And we know that we need a similar performance to the one we produced at Caldy last Saturday if we are to get a victory. We need bonus point victories from our last three games, but the mindset has to be first and foremost about getting the win before we can even start thinking about a bonus point."
Old Elthamians v Cinderford kicks off at 3pm at College Meadow tomorrow.
Updated 10:00 - 9 Apr 2019 by Jon Edwards