Former Esher backs coach Pete Richards insists the Molesey Road men must make the opening weeks of the campaign count if they are to survive in the Championship this term.

Director of rugby Mike Schmid’s side avoided the drop into National Division One by winning four out of six relegation play-off clashes after finishing in the bottom four.

Last year’s campaign started with wins over Bristol and London Welsh in the opening month and contributed to the seven bonus points they took into the end of season finale.

Esher have already lost props Will Collier and Dave Millard to injury – as well as star centre Tom Cheeseman – and have seen brothers Phil and Jamie McKenzie named in Canada’s World Cup squad.

With Sam Ulph and skipper David Slemen also missing for the start of the campaign, their preparations suffered another blow as they lost a final warm-up game against Championship rivals London Scottish 15-13 on Saturday.

But East Molesey-based Richards reckons starting the season on the front foot at Plymouth Albion on Saturday will be crucial to their hopes.

“I know they are stretched, but they need to pick up two early wins because that can make all the difference come the end of the season,” he said.

“They have a couple of important fixtures against Plymouth and Molesey early on and those two are likley to be around them at the end.

“Wins against the teams competing with them towards the bottom are much more important than ones against the likes of Leeds and Bedford.”

Richards, who has been replaced at Esher by Quins’ injured centre Ollie Smith, left Molesey Road in the summer due to his TV commitments.

He said: “When you finish your rugby career you want to keep your toe in and I enjoyed the opportunity to do that at Esher.”

Schmid beefed up his front row on Friday by signing former Bedford Blues and London Welsh man Robin Boot.

Boot featured in Saturday’s defeat but the Esher rugby director says he is a work in progress.

“Robin can play both sides of the scrum, but he has only just started out with us so we are going to have to see how it goes,” he added.

A late penalty gave the Scottish a narrow win after the hosts – inspired by two tries from Tom Loizides – had come from 12-3 down at half-time.

It left Schmid emphasising the task ahead of his men.

He said: “To stay out of the bottom four you need 10 or 12 wins. We are going to have to make sure we’re in as many games as possible to pick up the bonus points we’ll need.”

ESPN’s Pete Richards was at the launch of the broadcaster’s Masterclasses coaching programme at Weybridge Vandals.

ESPN will coach dozens of coaches and hundreds of schoolchildren nationwide this season.