Willetts expecting Old Cents to relish their fresh challenge
AFTER securing promotion against the odds last season, Old Centralians will have no fear when faced with the likes of Old Patesians and Lydney this term.
The close-knit Painswick Road outfit won the play-off final against Cambourne at the end of last season to progress to National Three – a level they would never have thought possible four years ago.
Club captain Pete Willetts said his men are feeling positive about the challenges ahead.
"While we respect our opposition, we cannot fear them," he said.
"For so many years, I played in the same league, and you grew up playing against the same players.
"We got promoted the season before, and now we are in the unknown again.
"Last year we were nervous and we ended up losing our first game against Reading, purely down to nerves and giving teams too much respect, questioning if we deserved to be in the game or not.
"We have earned the right to play in this league. We are positive and excited."
Assistant coach and player Ben Slatter said realistically the club were aiming for a mid-table finish this season, but there is a level of apprehension among the players who do not know what they are going to come up against in the higher division.
While Old Cents have recruited several players, including scrum-half and former Sale man Paul Knight, brother to Dave, they will start the season with several on the sidelines injured.
Player of the year Dan Knapman is recovering from a hernia, Slatter has a rotator cuff injury and fly-half Ryan Garrott will be having an operation on his knee.
Inside centre Ryan Townsend is in Perth, playing rugby alongside top try scorer Liam Hemming. Both are due to return at Christmas.
Willetts is unfazed by the loss of some key members, ensuring his side do not panic.
"We would have preferred to have a fully-fit squad going into this season but that's just the way it goes," he said.
"More than anything we need experience.
"While the young kids are brilliant because they are fearless and they go into each game not caring who they play against, you need that experience.
"We are missing a lot of that at the start of the season, but we aren't going into the games feeling sorry for ourselves, we are going in to win them.
"I think it should level out after three or four weeks and we should find our players coming back and we can have a true judge of where we are.
"We have good players stepping in and the boys are working very hard. They are very keen."
Slatter emphasised that five years ago, the thought of playing in the same league as established rugby clubs like Old Patesians and Lydney was a dream.
Now that this is a reality, manager Steve Preece have hailed the family feel of the club and dedication of the the players.
Preece said: "Four years ago we were bottom of Western Counties. It's a very close club and the commitment from the players is crucial. It's more like a family really."
Willetts knows the small Gloucester club is going to be up against clubs with much bigger funds available, but does not doubt the commitment of his squad.
He said: "Our boys are playing for each other and for the love of rugby.
"When your backs are against the wall and you're playing with your mates, it means a lot.
"We are a small club and we are punching above our weight but that's a good thing."
Old Cents face Hereford away today in their first pre-season clash.