Saumi keen to play down expectation levels at Albion
NAT SAUMI maybe a positive South Sea Islander, but he is also a realist.
Although he would love Albion to be once again challenging right at the very top of the Championship, Saumi admits he would settle for just a top eight spot this coming term.
The Fijian knows after years of financial struggle and near meltdown last season, Albion can't expect to just swap the bottom of the table for the top straight away.
However, he is convinced the historic club is once again back on the up after nearly hitting rock bottom in 2011/12.
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"I have seen what we went through at the club so I have to be realistic," said Saumi, when asked about his goal for the new campaign.
"We have been struggling in the bottom four for a couple of seasons so realistically you have to look for the top eight. If we go above that then it's a bonus.
"But even eighth place would be a job well done. You have to be realistic."
He added: "But I am excited about the new season.
"We finished last season off well and this year is just about moving forward."
Although a lot of people would like to forget about what happened last term, Saumi believes his players will be stronger this season for what they went through.
He believes what the players achieved last year was a success and he was delighted to keep so many of them for the 2012/13 campaign
"For me, if you have two changes of coaching staff and management of the team and you still manage to stay up, that is a big thing," he said.
"I think it has helped the players who were here experiencing those tough times. Those huge obstacles they went through are a stepping stone for this season.
"For me last season was the lowest since I've been at this club. But for this bunch of players to overcome that and get where we are, then from here it has to go up."
Saumi was delighted he was able to keep so many of last year's team.
The only real positions that have changed in the side are the locks and the back three.
"I am really glad I manage to retain the core players that I needed to be in the club so that they can help the youngsters who come in," said the Fijian, who has been at Albion since 2003.
Saumi admitted having Sean-Michael Stephen, Aaron Carpenter and Bevon Armitage already on two-year deals was a big help to him.
"It was, just for consistency of the club," he said.
"For them to be here, it helps younger players coming into the club."
Albion now have a team with plenty of Championship experience.
Only two of their starting line-up for today's opening match have not experienced the league before.
"In whatever workplace you are in you need experienced guys to be there," said Saumi.
"If one, two or three new guys come in you still need those experienced guys working. They will share their experience."
Saumi hopes this season the players that have been at the club a year or two will really blossom.
"I hope so," he said. "That is always the hope of every coach. I'm really looking forward to the season."
Saumi has added to the core of last year's squad with some notable additions.
International forwards Brett Beaukeboom and Rupeni Nasiga have arrived at the club, as has experienced Championship campaigner Rhodri McAtee.
Promising youngsters like Tom Bowen, Lewis Warner and Harrison Tovey have also come in.
Saumi said: "I'm really happy with the boys that have come in. There is loads of potential there."
When Saumi agreed to become Albion's new director of rugby/head coach he was quoted as saying he would have a slightly bigger budget to put together a competitive squad.
When asked if that was the case he said: "I don't really know what the budget was last season.
"Those things I give to them (the board) to handle. I just tell them the players I want and they make the deals."
He added: "You have to thank the board of directors who are in charge of finances.
"For them to help me retain most of the players, you have to applaud them. We managed to get the key players we got and we have been able to move on."
Saumi was Albion's first team coach for a number of seasons.
But how is he finding being the main boss?
"It is very, very different day-in, day-out," he said.
"You are always working one week ahead, but I am enjoying it."
He added: "To be in charge is good. Results come down to me so I have to be in charge of things that have to be done, but I'm okay with that."
Saumi looked after Albion's pre-season training last summer.
So did he do anything different during this closed season?
"Last season it was quite hard for me doing coaching and fitness at the same time," he said. "I was on my own. This season James Owen has come in and he's the one who has been in charge of fitness."
Albion played five pre-season matches against Launceston, Taunton, Redruth, Exmouth and Worcester Warriors. They won four and drew the other.
However, they did not get the big test they were looking for ahead of today's kick-off as Worcester opted to field their development team rather than their first or second string.
Saumi said: "The Worcester game was a bit of a downer.
"The players know they did not have many first team players there but the boys did very well and put a marker down in tough conditions, arriving late and only having 10 minutes warm-up and the rain, so they did really well."
Saumi admitted Albion found it hard getting pre-season matches as they were not sure until late on which league they would be playing in last term due to the play-off system. That is why the Albion boss is pleased the RFU have changed the structure of the league this term. There will be no relegation play-offs and only the top four will play off for promotion.
So who does Saumi believe are the teams to watch out for in this year's Championship?
"Newcastle are in the league now," said Saumi. "They have been in the Premiership since something like 1998 and this is the first time they've come down. Dean Richards is back again and we all know what he did at Harlequins, taking them back up.
"They will work hard to try and get back up there. You have also got Bristol, who also used to be a Premiership club. They were unlucky last season.
"I also think Leeds will be one of the teams we have to look out for. Those are the three I think will be fighting for promotion."
Saumi added: "But I think now competition will be really tough. No one will want to lose games, especially at home.
"Now you have to put your best players out every time.
"Players have to give everything because all the points count now."