BASINGSTOKE RFC director of rugby James Croker is facing a selection headache this weekend – but it’s a problem that he is happy to have.
’Stoke blew away a strong Hove side last week, winning 52-5 in Sussex to maintain their push for promotion from London One South.
Despite that, Croker admits that he has difficult decisions to make when it comes to picking the team for Saturday’s trip to Dover (kick-off 2.15pm) as so many players are putting themselves forward for a place in the team.
“The level of competition in the squad is exceptional,” he said. “The second string won really well again last week and those guys are putting so much pressure on the guys in the first team.
"It’s got to the point that I still have a selection headache, even when we have won. It’s brilliant and I am really excited about the squad at the moment.”
One of the stars of the second string’s excellent display was centre Matt Guilfoyle, who scored a hat-trick of tries on his return to action after 10 months out with injury.
He was a first team regular last season but could find it difficult to dislodge Freddie Gleadowe and David Byett, who have both been excellent over the course of this campaign.
“Matt Guilfoyle is a good mix of both Freddie and David,” Croker added. “He’s not quite rugby-fit yet but it is going to be like having a new player and everyone knows what he is capable of.”
Croker will be without second row Jake Henderson once more – but fellow lock Andy Hore is back in contention, as is winger Karl Buttle.
That gives Croker another selection dilemma. Buttle is Basingstoke’s top scorer and generally seen as the club’s first choice winger – but both Gareth Kelly and Gavin Dampies scored tries in his absence last week.
“We have got three excellent wingers, who would be certain to start at any other club in this league,” Croker said. “We scored 106 tries last season. This time around, with eight games to go, we have already scored 108, and a lot of that is down to them.”
’Stoke go into Saturday’s game in Kent just one point behind second-placed Chichester, having won their last four and 12 of their last 13 league games.
However, Dover are also in decent form. They have won four of their last five outings, beating Havant 22-12 last week, and are notoriously strong at home.
“If we do the right things then we should win there,” Croker added. “We just have to get our preparation right.
“We need not fear anything going down there. We will respect Dover because they have got a terrific 12 and a pack that look to spoil the game. We have to make sure we don’t allow them to do that to us.”