SSE National League One – Saturday, 7th September @ the Athletic Ground, 3pm
Athletic Ground holds no fears for focused Esher
Esher head to the Athletic Ground for the second time in as many weeks on Saturday and, after last week’s chastening experience against London Scottish, are focused on righting some wrong’s against the GKIPA Championship side’s landlords, Richmond.
Players and coaches alike pulled no punches in the post-match debrief last weekend, but ahead of the season opener against Steve Hill’s charges, Chris Kibble, part of the senior coaching trio at Molesey Road, was clear in explaining what he expected of his men this weekend.
“There were some pretty clear words exchanged in amongst the group after what happened against Scottish, and what I can assure our supporters is that there won’t be a repeat when we take on Richmond,” he said.
“Credit to Scottish, they are a very good unit who will be a real handful in the Championship, but we were just not at the level that we know we can be, and should be, regardless of who the opposition is.
“The de-brief was clear and concise, but the important is that it’s now been put to bed and there probably hasn’t been a sharper edge to training throughout the whole of pre-season than there has this week. That’s a result of the boys wanting to rectify a few things from seven days ago, but they also know there is genuine competition for places, which is healthy.”
A number of new faces have arrived at Molesey Road over the summer months, including new backs coach Craig Chalmers. Along with Kibble and Ricky Nebbett, who will head up the forwards coaching, he forms a strong three-man coaching crew, in charge of a largely settled group, with plenty of experience and youthfulness alike.
Arrivals on the playing front include the bruising Brandon Walker, the back-row man who plied his trade with Hartpury College last term, scrum-half Robbie Shaw, back for a second stint at the Club following spells with Bristol, Leeds Carnegie and, most latterly, Richmond, as well as former Saracens and Aironi half-back, Mickey Wilson.
Other new faces include ex-Plymouth Albion fly-half Tom Whelan, former professional footballer Paul Olima, who has been capped by Nigeria Sevens, and Anders Mogensen, once of Northampton Saints and Cambridge. Centre Jay Udo-Udoma, a team-mate of Olima at international level, has signed from Barking, with back-three man Ashley Smith arriving from London Welsh, having spent much of last season on loan at Cornish Pirates.
One familiar face likely to be donning the black, red and yellow of Richmond on Saturday will be that of Rob Kirby. The versatile utility back was impressive in the first half of last season at Esher, but moved on to Southend to work with Dick Best, where he had a massive input in keeping them in National Two South. Going in the other direction has been flanker Steve Wood, who impressed twice against his new team-mates for Richmond, but decided to make the switch a little further south in August.
Interestingly, the two fixtures between the teams last season yielded one victory apiece, with neither side winning at home. An in-form Esher side recorded a comprehensive 36-17 triumph, in late April, on their way to finishing second in the division, but it was a different story just before Christmas. After a dominant opening half hour, Esher were on the receiving end of a stunning back-lash from the London neighbours, who snared a thoroughly deserved 23-19 win.
What is for sure, though, is that the engagement this coming weekend is almost too close to call. Both sets of players know each other very well – a number crossed paths regularly on the sevens circuit over the break – and that will add spice to a mouth-watering opening day tussle.
Kibble, in previewing the challenge ahead, echoed just as much.
“It’s going to be an absolute cracker, and we’re massively looking forward to it. Aside from the reasons discussed earlier, players work hard for weeks on end to get themselves ready for competitive rugby, and that’s what it is all about.
“The boys are ready, and I’m sure the supporters will enjoy the occasion. It’s going to be a very closely fought league, where anyone is capable of beating anyone else, and we have to make sure that we put the foundations in place for our campaign early doors, beginning on Saturday."
Team news: Jay Udo-Udoma, Ashley Smith and Tom Whelan will all make full Club debuts after they were named in the starting XV announced on Thursday evening.
A settled pack is bolstered by the return of captain Ian Kench, in the back- row, after he missed the last third of the previous campaign having suffered a serious knee injury in the home game against Ealing Trailfinders. Also back after long term injury is Cameron Gentles, the New Zealander proving to be a real asset last year after his move from Amersham & Chiltern.
Luke Daniels, Spencer Sutherland and Smith will provide pace out wide, whilst Udo-Udoma will partner one of the Club’s rising stars in Jack Cooke in midfield. Whelan is partnered at half-back by the vastly experienced, and wily, Patrick O’Grady.
David Millard, Neil Sweeney and Stewart Maguire will provide heavy-duty support in the front-row, with Gentles partnering Kris Chesney behind them. Kench slots into a back-row alongside Pete Synnott and Mike Macfarlane.
The replacements’ bench includes Ollie Mines and James Campbell, who will provide front-row cover. New boys Brandon Walker and Mickey Wilson are also included, as well as Esher ‘returner’ Robbie Shaw.
|Rob Kirby||15||Luke Daniels|
|Robert Alexander||14||Ashley Smith|
|Nick Moore||13||Jack Cooke|
|Matt Keville||12||Jay Udo-Udoma|
|Will Browne||11||Spencer Sutherland|
|Louis Grimoldby||10||Tom Whelan|
|Jamie Gibbs||9||Patrick O’Grady|
|James Gethings||1||David Millard|
|Jason Phipps||2||Neil Sweeney|
|Danny Parkinson||3||Stewart Maguire|
|Will Warden (c)||4||Cameron Gentles|
|Charlie Lanygon||5||Kris Chesney|
|Tom George||6||Ian Kench ©|
|Simon Ackroyd||7||Pete Synnott|
|Chris Davies||8||Mike Macfarlane|
|James Doherty||16||Ollie Mines|
|Dave Simmons||17||James Campbell|
|Robin O'Sullivan||18||Brandon Walker|
|Paul Nash||19||Mickey Wilson|
|Tom Platt||20||Robbie Shaw|