BASINGSTOKE RFC are hoping to make it a three-horse race at the top of the London One South table this weekend.
The Down Grange club travel to fourth-place Wimbledon on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm), knowing that victory would open up a big gap between the top three and the rest of the league.
Wimbledon had been considered genuine promotion contenders, but a shock 23-14 defeat at Havant last weekend means that the gap between them and third-place Basingstoke now stands at 11 points.
A ’Stoke win this weekend would stretch that advantage further, while keeping the pressure on second-place Chichester, who are just five points ahead.
Basingstoke director of rugby Croker said: “I am really looking forward to the game.
“We need to win and the fact that Wimbledon lost to Havant last week makes it even more interesting.
“If we play the way we know we can, then we should get the victory.
“That would take the top three well clear and give Chichester something to think about as well.
“Speaking to other coaches, it seems that Wimbledon are a team that don’t make a lot of errors. They don’t score many points, but they don’t concede them either. We just have to make sure we have a cutting edge.”
That cutting edge was somewhat lacking in Basingstoke’s last game as they failed to secure the four-try bonus point against bottom-of-the-table Old Colfeians.
That result saw ’Stoke lose ground on the top two – but Croker said his side must focus on winning the game before they start to think about securing maximum points this week.
“We always go out looking for the bonus point – but the win comes first,” he said. “I believe we will claim that bonus point back because Chichester will drop points, so it’s not a real issue.”
Basingstoke will be boosted by the return of prop Ollie John, flanker Matt Horne, scrum-half Jamie Fish, centre David Byett and winger Gavin Dampies.
All five players were absent against Old Colfeians – and Croker is sure that their return will make a difference.
“We missed them because they bring confidence,” Croker added. “We need to make sure we are picking guys who believe that they can be champions.
“There are a few guys who we miss when they are not there because it makes other people lack confidence.
“We need to make sure those guys are fit and also ensure that the others realise they are just as talented.
“They have to believe they are capable and they must start to play with their chests pumped out.”