Coach: ‘Bury can push for promotion’
Ollie Smith believes promotion to the National League is achievable for his Bury St Edmunds side this season — despite a massive overhaul of the playing and coaching staff during the summer.
Saturday’s comeback win at fourth-placed Canterbury — overturning a 21-5 deficit at the break to lead 29-21 come the final whistle — has given belief that the current sixth-placed Wolfpack can make a serious challenge for the top two.
And ahead of what will be his 10th game in charge — when Bury host 12th-placed west country outfit Clifton tomorrow (3pm) — Smith believes even the top automatic promotion place is not beyond their reach, despite currently being 13 points adrift of the play-off position and 14 from leaders Taunton Titans.
“The reality is, if we can continue to progress, and we have been getting better week by week, there is no reaosn why we cannot challenge for promotion this season,” said head coach Smith.
“It will be a big ask but we have seven games now to put us in a good place for Christmas where, if we can keep working hard for each other and keep performing, we can suddenly look back (at the table) and say after the first half of the season we are in with a shout.”
He added: “At the moment it is still in our hands.
“If we want to go on and challenge for the title at the end of the season and take that on, we can.”
With 21 players having come into the club along with a new coaching set-up, it was thought a transitional season of consolidation in the fourth tier of English rugby, having flirted with relegation towards the end of last term under Gavin Hogg before pulling clear, could well be on the cards.
But, after a wobble on the opening day in a 50-17 home thrashing by newly-promoted Tonbridge Juddians, Smith’s side have gone on to win six from eight, with those two defeats narrow ones against two of the promotion front-runners in Redruth (12-9 away) and leaders Taunton (26-20 at home).
Smith is keeping people’s feet firmly on the ground, though, by adding there is ‘still a long, long way to go’ for Bury to bring their dream to within touching distance.
“We have just beaten a top four team in Canterbury away from home, although it was a game of two halves,” he said.
“We are still looking for that 80-minute performance, or a 60-to-70-minute one would be good.
“If we play like we did in the first half (at Canterbury) I will not be in a job long!
“We are still trying to challenge each other as a group for that consistency in our game.”
Smith hinted he could include a summer addition that was kept under wraps in his starting XV tomorrow, with former Bath and Ulster academy player and Irish youth hooker Tristan King having had to prove his fitness after joining with a broken leg.
Influential winger Mark Kohler (ankle) is set to miss out again.