Experienced Joel Hinchliffe says 15 is the magic number for Huddersfield Rugby Union Club this season.
Head coach Gareth Lewis has guided his side to a 15-match winning run in National III North ahead of the trip to Billingham next Saturday.
It’s an impressive sequence to put the club bang on course for promotion.
And 30-year-old scrum half Hinchliffe says there is a steely determination to not only regain National II status but to keep the unbeaten tag for as long as possible in 2017.
“The key for us has been keeping everyone together after what was a difficult season last time and adding some more talent to build,” said Hinchliffe.
“I think we had the wherewithal to finish comfortably mid-table last season, but things worked against us.
“That’s not an excuse, but after finishing ninth the previous season I think we got a bit into ‘second season syndrome’, where we felt we could take care of ourselves and almost changed our game plan a little bit.
“We could have finished a bit higher the previous season with a few more bonus-point tries, so we tried to be a bit more expansive and, by last Christmas, we’d got into a bit of a mess where we were chasing wins – and it all got away from us.
“This season we have returned to being direct and concentrating on having everything right – beating teams up front and then getting in behind and making them pay.”
Huddersfield have some electric pace in the backs – with 21-try Elliot Hodgson leading the way – but Hinchliffe says it’s a real team effort, not just on the Lockwood Park pitch but among the coaches and support staff.
“Credit to the coaches, because they looked at how we were playing and they’ve now got us doing the right things much better and sticking to the game plan,” explained Hinchliffe, the first XV backs coach at Silcoates School in Wakefield.
“Yes, we’ve had some big victories and some where the scorelines have flattered us, but that’s only because we are now making the most of every single opportunity.
“I don’t think our play was any better illustrated than in the 22-5 home win over second-placed Rossendale – which has been the highlight so far.
“We went in at half time 5-3 down but, having said that, we had defended our line for a good 20 minutes before they were finally given a pushover try.
“That we were able to come out and win it with some great kicking (from Chris Bell) and a great try (from Lewis Workman) just illustrated that it’s our defence which is winning us matches.
“Our defence is the key thing. Our defence is winning us the games and our attack are deciding by how much.
“We work on the theory that if the opposition don’t score then they can’t win.
“So we talk about the ‘Magic 15’, because we reckon that if we can stop the opposition scoring more than 15 points, we will back ourselves to win every time – because we will score more than that.
“The display against Rossendale illustrated that. It felt like the kind of game you would get at the top of National II as opposed to National III, and Rossendale showed they are strong and will stay strong, but we came through stronger and that spoke volumes about our club.”
For the record, only Doncaster Phoenix have scored 15 points against Huddersfield this season (and they’ve done it twice in defeat).
Lewis’s men have conceded only 135 points in their 15 matches, while piling up 672 points at the other end – both league bests.
Individually, stand off Bell has contributed 265 of those, mostly from his deadly-accurate right boot.
“Chris Bell has grown in maturity with the way he plays, and that brings another aspect to the fore,” said Hinchliffe, who started at the club in the Academy before getting a contract at Halifax, going travelling and then returning to Lockwood Park in 2008.
“Last year, as senior players, we were having to put a lot of arms around shoulders to get younger lads through the game, but now those younger lads have matured and they are doing it for themselves, so it’s taken the pressure off.
“There are a lot of unsung heroes at Lockwood Park right now. We are not a team full of stars – we aim to be a star team.”
So what’s the focus now 2017 has dawned?
“Winning promotion is the ultimate aim, but we want to go unbeaten for as long as we can,” he answered.
“We have played 15 matches so far and we’ve got 11 left, and the biggest danger to us coming unstuck is if anyone gets complacent.
“Every opposition are treating us like their cup final and are determined to upset our apple cart, but we are focused on one game at a time and sticking to the principles of the ‘Magic 15’ formula.
“When I mentioned to Gaz (Lewis) earlier in the season about how great it would be if we could become the ‘Arsenal Invincibles’ of rugby union this season, he quickly told me to shut up and not to tempt fate.
“Each win brings that promotion target closer, so all we can do is focus on each game as it comes and Billingham away on Saturday is the next one. That will be tough because they’ve won twice as many as they have lost and they’ve been class at times, so we have to be ready to work and implement our game plan again.”