BASINGSTOKE RFC are hoping that a bumper crowd will inspire them to end 2012 on a winning note.
’Stoke’s promotion hopes suffered a setback last weekend – a 14-5 defeat at Wimbledon leaving them 10 points behind second-place Chichester in the London One South table.
’Stoke play their final game of the year on Saturday, when Hampshire rivals Trojans visit Down Grange (kick-off 3pm).
Local firms Apex Risk Management and Bryan Hirst Limited are sponsoring the entire day, offering free entry to the match and a complementary hog roast in the evening. In addition, bumper car rides will be available at Down Grange, while evening entertainment will be provided by solo artist James Lucey.
It is hoped that making the game free of charge will attract a large crowd – something that coach Will Croker hopes the players will feed off.
“We want to play a bigger part in the community, and it would be great to see as many people as possible down here because it gives players a buzz,” he said. “When we get 300 or 400 people in the ground, it makes a real difference.
“We try to play a brand of rugby that people will enjoy watching, and I hope Saturday’s match will be a good advert for the league.”
It’s been a tough week for ’Stoke, with the defeat at Wimbledon coming after director of rugby James Croker spent two nights in hospital following a minor heart attack.
The 34-year-old has a heredi tary heart condition and suffered a similar, more serious, attack three years ago. He is said to be in good spirits and recovering well, but he will not lead the side on Saturday.
Forwards coach Will Croker will take his brother’s place on the sideline – and he is hoping to give James the perfect Christmas present by guiding the team to victory against struggling Trojans.
Will said: “We want to beat Trojans so we go into the three-week break on a positive note.
“Trojans have got a terrific full-back and a good number seven – and we saw the danger that teams near the bottom can pose when Old Colfeians came to us last month.
“It was not a good performance from us that day and we dropped a bonus point. We have learned lessons from that though, and I can assure everyone that we will not be taking Trojans lightly.”
Last week’s disappointing defeat at Wimbledon put a major dent in Basingstoke’s promotion aspirations – but Will insists that all is not lost.
“We still believe that we are one of the top two teams in the league and the mood in the camp remains positive,” he said. “We are still in it and a big win against Chichester in January will put us back in the hunt.
“After that, Chichester have still got to play some tough games so we have got to believe. There is no point us thinking that it is all done and dusted because that is when a season can taper off.”
Basingstoke will again be without winger Gareth Kelly and fly-half Adam Davies. However, they are hoping to welcome back scrum-half Jamie Fish.
“We have got the Christmas break coming up, which will give us three weeks off and the chance to get some guys back,” said Will. “We do not like to make excuses but we are missing players in pivotal positions at the moment.”