'Stoke aim to close the gap on league leaders

First published in Sport Basingstoke Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Sports Reporter

BASINGSTOKE RFC’s bid for promotion from London One South could get a major boost this weekend as they go for victory in one of the biggest games of the season so far.

The Down Grange club travel to Sidcup, knowing that victory will see them close the gap on early season pacesetters Chichester and East Grinstead, who play each other in Sussex.

’Stoke currently sit third in the table, eight points behind the joint leaders – but that could all change on Saturday.

A bonus point victory could see Basingstoke end the day as little as three points off second place and the play-off spot they crave, while a win of any kind would see them gain ground on at least one of the top two.

’Stoke director of rugby James Croker said: “It is a big weekend for the league as a whole and we are all looking forward to it.

“The top six all play one another and it’s an opportunity for us to close the gap.

“Our aim is to get through to Christmas unscathed, which would set up an exciting home game against Chichester in January.

“First and foremost though, we have got to beat Sidcup. Whatever happens elsewhere, it will mean nothing if we do not carry out our end of the bargain.

“After the game, we will look at the other results and see where it leaves us, but before it, we have got to concentrate on our own performance and not worry about what other teams are doing.”

Basingstoke go into the weekend having won their last six league games – but Sidcup will provide them with a stern test. The Kent side are fifth in the table after winning four of their last five games and have a strong home record.

“These are the sort of games we need to win if we are to go up,” Croker added. “Sidcup are going to be strong but I am confident we will win.”

Sidcup beat ’Stoke 22-21 when the sides met at Down Grange last autumn, though Basingstoke gained revenge in the reverse fixture later in the season.

Croker said: “I am expecting Sidcup to be a similar side to the one we came up against last year – but they will be better than they were when we played them in the second half of last season.

“We are not the same team that took their foot off the gas at home last year. We are now far more clinical.”

’Stoke go into the game without injured quartet Simon Appleby, Matt Guilfoyle, Adam Davies and Gareth Kelly, while back row Matt Horne and hooker Jon Bird are unavailable.

Several players, including captain Neil Young, prop Ollie John, flanker Steve Hicks and exciting centre Freddie Gleadowe, were rested for last week’s Hampshire Cup match against Winchester – one that ended in a surprise defeat for ‘Stoke. They are all set to return and should be fresh after a week off.

When it comes to the game between East Grinstead and Chichester, Croker is hoping for an East Grinstead win.

“East Grinstead winning would be better for us because otherwise we have to wait until the end of the season to get into the top two,” he explained.

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