'Stoke gear up for vital promotion clash

Freddie Gleadowe is expected to return for Basingstoke on Saturday.

Freddie Gleadowe is expected to return for Basingstoke on Saturday.

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

BASINGSTOKE RFC director of rugby James Croker says that confidence is high in the camp ahead of Saturday’s crucial clash against promotion rivals Chichester.

With East Grinstead strong favourites to win London One South, both ’Stoke and Chichester have their sights set on second place in the London One South table and the chance to win promotion via a play-off.

The Sussex side are second at the moment, holding a five-point advantage over third-placed Basingstoke going into Saturday’s crucial clash at Down Grange (kick-off 3pm).

A home victory would close the gap – and ’Stoke would leapfrog their rivals if they were to collect maximum points and deny Chichester any bonus points. However, defeat would leave Basingstoke requiring other sides to do them a favour by beating Chichester.

’Stoke have narrowly lost their last three meetings with Chichester, including a 35-28 defeat in Sussex back in September – but Croker is confident that his side can come out on top this time around.

“We just need to make sure we do not show them too much respect, which is what we’ve done in the past,” he said. “We have been a bit too worried about what they can do and have taken our eye off what we need to do. We must get that right and go from there.

“We have home advantage and are on a good run but it will be a competitive and hard-fought game, with a lot on the line.

“We are really confident. We had a really good win over Gosport and Fareham last week and we are where we want to be going into the game, in that a win could move us into second.

“It’s not quite win or bust but winning this week would put us in a terrific position and be a great boost for everyone.”

Croker, right, has been boosted by the return of winger Gareth Kelly, who featured in the 57-14 win at Gosport on Saturday, while centre Freddie Gleadowe is back in contention, as are hookers Jamie Folan and Lloyd Staszkiewcz. In addition, fly-half Adam Davies could play if he comes through a fitness test on his injured hand, meaning only flanker Ryan Davis will miss out.

The last two meetings between Basingstoke and Chichester have followed a similar pattern, with ’Stoke making a poor start before fighting back to get into the game, only to lose it late on.

Making a better start to the match will be vital to ’Stoke’s chances of success, as will their defence of Chichester’s powerful driving maul. Basingstoke have conceded several tries from lineout drives in recent weeks – but Croker insists that it is not an area of real concern.

“Teams find it difficult to break us down and end up kicking penalties to the corner,” he said. “I would say that the percentage of lineout drives that we defend is pretty high. It’s something we are looking to work on but there are a lot of areas like that. It’s not a massive concern.

“Hopefully, we have sorted out our start to games now and we know we are capable of doing a job on them, as long as we concentrate on our own game.”

Basingstoke have a poor record against the better teams in the league, having failed to win a single game against sides in the top four since they were relegated to London One South in 2011 – but Croker insists his side can beat the big teams.

“We have an improving and progressing squad and are doing better than we did last year,” he said. “We are developing home-grown players and that takes a bit more patience. We will beat big teams at some stage. Hopefully, we can start on Saturday.”

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