Mike Schmid is keeping faith with the players who secured Esher an impressive ninth place in their debut Championship campaign as they build for next season.
The Esher Director of Rugby has re-signed 13 of the squad who just missed out on a coveted promotion play-off spot and expects to finalise deals for another 10 in the next few days. But Schmid also hopes to add several quality new names as Esher target a top-eight spot and the luxury of avoiding the relegation play-offs.
Points machine Sam Ulph, Jonny Hylton, Geoff Griffiths, Arran Cruickshanks, Jamie Mackenzie, Andy Garner and Clive Stuart-Smith are the six backs who have already agreed terms.
While up front, Dave Millard, Ricky Nebbett, Paul Barker, Matt Symons, Sam Stitcher and Shawn Renwick have also signed on the dotted line.
But Schmid admits his recruitment drive is fuelled by a desire to avoid the four-team relegation play-off, a system loathed throughout the Championship and recently slated by Esher chief and former England star Simon Halliday.
Schmid said: “Things are progressing well with 13 signed up and we hope to finalise talks with another 10 over the next few days.
“But we know we need to add some strength in depth in certain areas and hope to reveal some significant new signings in the next week or so.
“One positive thing about the relegation play-offs is that there is a renewed vigour not to be in them again next season. The pressure of the games was not a very enjoyable experience. Obviously we have been hampered by the play-offs system as teams who were safe as early as February or March could start planning for next season.
“But we are progressing well. We know we have got to improve on and off the field next season if we are to achieve that top-eight spot.”
Schmid admits he will be delighted to have Stuart-Smith back to full fitness even though he faces a battle for the scrum-half spot with Mackenzie and Garner.
Former England Saxons ace Stuart-Smith missed most of last season with cruciate damage but is now back in full training.
Schmid said: “I’ve never seen somebody so determined to get himself back and he’s going to be in outstanding shape next season. We missed him at lot.
“It means we should have great strength in depth at scrum-half with Jamie Mackenzie and Andy Garner, who will be looking to put the two more experienced guys under pressure.”
Schmid has also been in talks with Harlequins and Wasps and hopes to tie up duel-registered deals with half a dozen players.
However Esher will be without the services of centre Seb Jewell, wing Gerard Mullen and fly-half Mike Whitehead next season.
Jewell and Mullen have joined local rivals London Welsh while Whitehead has signed for Doncaster. Schmid said: “Obviously it is disappointing to lose quality players like these.
“But we understand that they wanted to pursue their careers in full- time rugby and we obviously can’t offer them that. They go with our best wishes.”