Esher boss admits big Mac holds the key to survival
Director of rugby Mike Schmid says his Esher men have given themselves a chance of repeating last seasons great escape from the Championship drop.
Schmid’s men beat Leeds Carnegie 24-22 with a stoppage time try from Canadian international Phil Mackenzie – and conversion from fly half Mark Atkinson – to secure back-to-back league triumphs.
Esher beat relegation play-off rivals London Scottish 24-14 last week and host fellow strugglers Plymouth Albion in the final game of the regular season on Saturday.
The Molesey Road outfit won three of their final four league games last term, before blitzing the play-offs to survive in the second tier of English rugby.
And Schmid, wary of a £314,000 cut in RFU funding should his side drop in to National Division One, believes his men can do the unthinkable once more.
“It was thrilling win for supporters and the players, but it was heart stopping for the management,” he said.
“The great thing for me is that the winning score was not an easy one. We played out of our own 22 and had the courage and confidence to work our way there. The boys have collectively worked very hard to be able to achieve that sort of score all season and it can only bode well.
“It was a massive boost to get that extra bonus point to take into the play-offs.
“We have to go into them with a small gap to close, not a cavernous one, which is why this week is just as important. This was an important step as the pressure is going to be something similar at the end of the season.
“We have always said that once we got the core of our squad together then we would be competitive in every game and I think we have seen that coming together in the new year.”
Mackenzie has been a major part of Esher’s revival since Christmas, which started with a 13-13 draw with London Welsh on December 26 and has now featured three wins since beginning the campaign with 14 straight league defeats.
And Schmid, who revealed there remained an outside chance club captain David Slemen might feature in the play-offs, admitted the 25-year-old – who is fourth in the division’s try scoring charts – had become a key man.
“Phil is a big, physical athlete and he always seems to beat the first man. If you give him the ball that close to the try line and with only one man to beat, there is only going to be one winner,” he added.
“The players are trying hard to get the ball in his hands as often as possible at the moment, because he is one of our major strike runners. He has scored 10 tries this season and he missed the first two months while he was away at the World Cup. He’s certainly hitting form at the right time for us.”
Mackenzie added: “To win three games in a row would be massive in terms of confidence ahead of the play-offs.
“We can’t afford to take a step backwards.”
Esher should have Harleq-uins dual-registered players prop Will Collier, winger Seb Stegmann, hooker Rob Buchanan and prop Nic Mayhew available at the weekend.