Survival this season in the Greene King IPA Championship would be an even greater achievement than last time around – according to Richmond boss Steve Hill.
The part-timers upset the odds last year – their first back in the second flight of English rugby in nearly 20 years – as they claimed a tenth-place finish in the league.
The liquidation of London Welsh halfway through last season had already guaranteed their survival but they showed admirable fighting spirit to finish the season in style.
Victories over the likes of Cornish Pirates, Nottingham and Bedford after Christmas saw them finish above Rotherham Titans in the table.
But while a few sides might have underestimated the south west London outfit last time around, Hill knows that this year they will have no such luck in the battle to beat the drop.
“Our guys worked incredibly hard to remain in the Championship and I think we’re all very proud of what they achieved last year, so we’re excited to do it again,” said Hill at the Greene King IPA Championship launch at Twickenham on Monday.
“Maybe one or two people took us lightly last year and I don’t think they’ll do that this year.
“Without a doubt there was a big step up in areas like physicality and if you made a mistake you got punished, and I think as the season went on we learnt from that, we got better and better.
“Some of our wins in the second half of the season we’re incredibly proud of. “
This year the absence of the play-offs means the top sides will not be able to take their foot off the gas all season long.
And Hill admits that will make his side’s challenge all the more difficult.
“The playoffs being taken away will add a different dynamic,” he added.
“I think it will be a fantastic achievement if I’m sitting here this time next year and talking to you about Richmond remaining in the Championship, and whether that’s finishing 11th or 10th or ninth, I don’t think makes a huge amount of difference.
“I just think the fact that a team that is made up of guys with full-time jobs and do this as their leisure time can remain at this level is a fantastic achievement, and if we can do that a second time, that would be brilliant.”
The loss of the likes of Sam Stuart and Rupert Harden will be tough to take but the team spirit at the club is second to none – according to Hill.
And that is what makes them such a tough nut to crack, even at this lofty level against full-time professionals.
“We learned an awful lot from playing in the Championship last season, this time last year I only had seven players who had Championship experience, I’ve now got 35 guys, and we’re really hoping that that’s going to make a difference,” he added.
“Our team bond is absolutely central to our success over the last few years, we played on Saturday, and 11 of the starting 15 on Saturday played last season.
“These guys aren’t just turning up on a Saturday to get a pay cheque, they turn up and play for Richmond because they want to play for Richmond.
“I think they understand why they play at Richmond and for us, that’s really important. We want players who want to come in and add to that, we’re not a place where you can come and earn any great money from playing Rugby, you’ve got to really enjoy it and want to develop and want to do as well as you can, so that team spirit, in many ways that’s encapsulated by our captain Will Warden.
“He’s going into his sixth year now as captain, he’s a fantastic leader both on and off the pitch, and personalities like that are really important.
“We know it’s going to be a tough season, we know we’re going to lose more games than we’re going to win, so how do you maintain people’s spirits? It’s by having that togetherness, it’s about having that really strong team spirit that enables us to be successful at the end of the season.”
The Greene King IPA Championship is the second tier of professional rugby in England. To keep up to date with the latest news and features follow @ChampRugby on Twitter
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