WINTERBOTTOM STRENGTHENS ESHER SQUAD WITH FIVE SIGNINGS
By MARK BENGOECHEA
PETER WINTERBOTTOM has started strengthening his Esher squad in a bid to turn them into National League Two South title contenders next season.
The Eees Director of Rugby has so far made five new signings to add to a squad that finished eighth in the curtailed season.
Winterbottom has a tight budget from which to operate but hopes the cost-cutting measures put in place following relegation from National One a year ago will mean Esher can survive the current financial crisis affecting clubs across the country because of coronavirus. Contracts being agreed for this season will not kick in until the RFU have firmed up dates for a return to competitive league rugby.
Generous Esher supporters have helped raise over £20,000 in a GoFundMe campaign while the club have made several other cost-cutting measures as well as taking advantage of the Government furlough scheme. But the budget will largely depend on the support of sponsors and members.
The deep economic problems as a result of Covid-19 have affected all rugby union clubs and Winterbottom expects the knock-on effects to run deep. He said: "Esher cut their cloth this time last year and despite the current issues, we hope the rugby budget will be similar to what it was last year.
"Of course, it will be interesting to see what players become available in the next few months because there's going to be a fallout from Premiership clubs, to Championship clubs, the Division One and so on.
"We had big turnaround of players 12 months ago following relegation from National One, and the squad had a difficult first season in Division Two South. But we've been able to sign a few quality players to add to what we've already got and I'm confident we will have a strong squad who are able to really challenge."
Winterbottom has added five players so far to his squad, including hooker Andy Hamilton, who last season was on loan from Blackheath but has committed to Esher for the coming season.
Esher have also added two backs to their squad with 20-year-old centre Ciaran McGann signing from Old Elthamians and Jack Lavin, the former Caldy and England Counties midfield back.
Lavin suffered a serious neck injury in pre-season training at Esher in August 2017 but made a successful comeback with Battersea Ironsides and has decided to commit to the Amber and Blacks for the new campaign.
The versatile RAF player Alex Stanley, who can play at lock or back row, is another recruit while prop Theo Skoumbourdis returns to Molesey Road from local neighbours Sutton and Epsom.
Winterbottom said: "We've added some quality players and given ourselves much more strength in depth so I'm very pleased and hopefully it will help us challenge to be at the top next season. We have a great bunch of players at the club already and it will be a real boost adding quality to the squad."
Esher are also in the process of securing the core of last season's squad and Winterbottom admits that is vital to ensure stability and continuity at Molesey Road.
Charlie Gossington, Matt Lowes, Joe Beckett, Tom James, Harrison Collins, Adam Bullett and Fraser Wem, along with many others including the whole coaching team, have all committed themselves to another season at Molesey Road to the delight of Winterbottom. He said: "It's great to have these guys commit, we now have a really good place to build from. We've got the experience of a season in Div Two, we understand the league and we know what we're up against and what it will take to be successful.
"As I said to the players last year, if we're going to get any success, it's got to come from them. It's going to be about hard work and commitment to the team and the club and all these guys understand what it will take."
Winterbottom also plans to bring the top three Esher sides - the first team, Cardinals and Abbots – closer together in the forthcoming campaign.
He said: "We felt last season the Abbots were slightly disconnected from the whole playing squad and we're bringing them all under the senior rugby umbrella. We think the squad will be a lot stronger in general terms, in depth. First and foremost the players are playing for Esher Rugby irrespective of whether they are First XV, Cardinals or Abbots. The ambition is to have three successful winning sides."