H&B coach savours most successful season

Steve McManus scores H&B's opening try in the Sussex Shield final. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker
Steve McManus scores H&B's opening try in the Sussex Shield final. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

Hastings & Bexhill head coach Chris Brooks called it ‘the best season I can remember’ after the rugby club completed a league and cup double.

H&B added the Sussex Shield to their Kent One title courtesy of a 25-8 victory over Burgess Hill in Saturday’s final at a very warm East Grinstead RFC.

H&B in possession against Burgess Hill. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

H&B in possession against Burgess Hill. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

Brooks said: “I think I’ve been at the club since 1990 and certainly this is the most successful season results-wise that I can remember. It’s been an awesome season.”

H&B have won 25 of their 28 games in all competitions this term, scoring 915 points and conceding only 315. In their three Sussex Shield matches, they amassed 140 points and conceded just 18.

“It’s solely down to the players,” continued Brooks. “They’re a very talented group, they love their rugby and training is always very well attended.

“Training isn’t autocratic either. The players themselves, if they’ve got an idea or want to try something, aren’t shy in coming forward and running a training session. We’ve got a lot of integrity.”

Harry Walker in possession against Burgess Hill. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

Harry Walker in possession against Burgess Hill. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

H&B’s success has been very much homegrown. Of the 22 players used in the Sussex Shield final, for example, 15 had begun playing in the club’s minis section.

“We’ve got such a good youth development policy in the club now,” Brooks went on. “We’re very much a community club.

“We can’t pay players so we’re very much homegrown and that truly is incredibly satisfying. I can’t remember the last time we had such a young average age of the team.”

H&B’s success hasn’t just been confined to the first team. The seconds won Sussex Division Three and reached the Sussex Bowl final, while the thirds made it to the Sussex Salver final.

Mark Piotrowski in possession. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

Mark Piotrowski in possession. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

“The second and third team players do the same training as the first team players, and I’ve been able to bounce players between the two 15s with very little, if any, reduction in quality,” added Brooks.

“The spirit runs right down through the club. The touchline at East Grinstead was well-attended by second and third team players as well, and last week both training sessions included an awful lot of people who knew they weren’t going to be playing.”

Saturday’s victory was a triumphant conclusion to the career of long-serving player/backs’ coach Kit Claughton, who is retiring, and Jimmy Adams’s stint as captain. Adams is stepping down from the role after several years and Joe Umpleby will take over.

“Over the years Jimmy’s really grown into the role and his team-talks these days are positively Churchillian, but his expertise will still be on the field,” Brooks said.

Chris Stern takes on the Burgess Hill defence. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

Chris Stern takes on the Burgess Hill defence. Picture courtesy Nigel Baker

“There were three contenders (to take over) and all three of them were very close. It came down to a deciding vote and Joe pipped it. He’s got exactly the right temperament for it, always puts in a solid shift every game and leads from the front.”

Although set to lose Harry Walker and Adam Baker to university, H&B are now looking forward to the challenge of stepping up to London Three South East next season.

“We’re not going to try anything too adventurous next year,” added Brooks. “We need to stabilise our position in that league and a good mid-table finish would be eminently satisfying.”