THERE is sure to be a great atmosphere at Down Grange on Saturday, when Basingstoke and Havant, the two biggest rugby clubs in Hampshire, will do battle on the pitch.
The sides have been big rivals for a number of years, meeting in six Hampshire Cup finals between 2001 and 2009.
Havant had the upper hand at one stage, beating ’Stoke to lift the county cup three times in the space of four years as they enjoyed a prolonged spell in the National League.
However, it is Basingstoke who can currently claim to be the best side in Hampshire. They beat Havant to capture the county cup in 2009 and have won the competition on two occasions since and have won three of the five league meetings between the sides since.
It was ’Stoke who emerged 39-13 winners when the sides met in south Hampshire earlier this season and, while they are third in the London One South table in contention for a place in a promotion play-off, Havant lie 10th.
Another victory on Saturday would solidify Basingstoke’s position as the top side in the county – but while ’Stoke director of rugby James Croker is looking forward to the game, he does not want to focus too much on the rivalry.
“It’s a Hampshire derby and we are looking forward to it,” he said. “Notoriously Basingstoke and Havant are the big two rugby clubs in Hampshire and they still are in league standings.
“There is certainly a big rivalry between the fans but I have not been a big part of it and to me it’s just another game. As an outsider, I know that Basingstoke and Havant are the big two.
“It’s nice to be a part of that but we will not be focusing on it because a lot of the players are in the same boat as me. If we try to turn it into a really big deal, there’s a danger that it will take away from the game itself, which is the main thing.”
It’s a match that Basingstoke must win, preferably scoring four tries in the process, in order to maintain their push for second place and a play-off berth.
Havant’s form is mixed, while they haven’t played since the first week of January, but they are capable of pulling off surprise results, as they proved by beating high-flying Wimbledon towards the end of last year.
“Havant have got some really talented players,” Croker said. “Their hooker was terrific down there and they have got a very good fly-half as well.
“They have guys who we respect but it is about us doing our thing. We just have to win our ball and do the things we know we can with it.
“We seem to do well against the mid-table sides but we need to make sure that we concentrate 100 per cent on the game and get the job done.”
’Stoke will be without fly-half Adam Davies, so Jack Parsons is likely to deputise in the number 10 shirt, while full-back Ashley Paterson, who would have missed last week’s postponed game against Hove, is back in contention.