'Stoke start new year with Hampshire derby

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

BASINGSTOKE RFC director of rugby James Croker says his side must put next weekend’s clash against promotion rivals Chichester to the back of their minds as they prepare for a tricky trip to Gosport and Fareham.

’Stoke return to action after a three-week Christmas break on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm), knowing that victory in their remaining 12 games would probably see them win promotion from London One South.

The next big hurdle is a home game against Chichester, who are currently five points above Basingstoke in second place, at Down Grange on January 12.

However, for that game to have any real significance, ’Stoke must first take care of business away at struggling Gosport and Fareham.

Croker said: “Chichester losing to Hove before Christmas makes things very interesting for everybody but our next game is against Gosport and we have to concentrate on that.

“We cannot afford to get ahead of ourselves and start thinking about Chichester. We want to go on a good run in January and to do that, we need to make sure we take one game at a time.

“Getting the four-try bonus point is key this week but Gosport are a sticky team so we need to make sure that we go there and do the right things.”

Basingstoke go into the game having won nine of their last 10 games, while Gosport have lost their last three. ’Stoke won comfortably when the sides met at Down Grange earlier in the season but Croker is expecting a much tougher test away from home.

“On the road, Gosport are not doing particularly well, but at home they seem to be doing a bit better, pushing teams all the way,” he said. “They have only won three games all year so it’s a game that we should be winning but we need to make sure that we play to our tempo and do things right. We have just got to concentrate on ourselves. That is the key. We just have to do our thing.

“It is going to be a heavy pitch but we are capable of competing in all conditions. We have a big pack who are capable of dominating sides, so that might be the way we need to play it.”

Croker could be handed a triple boost ahead of the game as scrum-half Jamie Fish, fly-half Adam Davies and winger Gareth Kelly could all return after injury.

Fish is likely to slot straight into the side, replacing Guy Wilkinson, who has suffered a burst appendix, while Kelly is also fully fit. The return of Davies, who made such a big impact before injuring his hand in October, would be a massive plus for ’Stoke, but he may need another week to ensure he has fully recovered.

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