BASINGSTOKE RFC have announced that director of rugby James Croker is stepping down after three seasons at Down Grange.
Croker has been appointed as director of sport at Daneshill School, in Stratfield Turgis, and is taking a year away from rugby to focus on his new role.
He enjoyed three good years at Down Grange, leading the club to promotion to the National League via a play-off in 2013. They were unable to consolidate their position, suffering relegation back to London One South at the end of last season, but the campaign ended on a high, with victory in the Hampshire Cup final.
“I had an amazing three years at the club and made some really good friends,” Croker said. “There were massive highs and a couple of lows, but overall, it’s been amazing.
“Basingstoke has become a big part of my life and I am sad to leave, this was a really good opportunity for my career."
New 'Stoke head coach Will Croker
Croker will be replaced in the ’Stoke hot-seat by his brother, Will, who steps up to take over as head coach having worked with the forwards under his younger sibling.
“Will is the perfect person to take over in that he will not change anything in terms of ethos and values," James said. "He knows the squad, so there is continuity in that sense and he knows what it takes to get out of this league.”
Will is delighted to have been handed the opportunity to lead Basingstoke, and believes that the time is right for him to take over.
“I have been part of James’ coaching team for three years and stepped in when he has been off due to illness," he said. "Now it is the time to take the next step in my coaching career.
“I cannot wait for the season to get started now. It’s an exciting time because we managed to keep most of the squad together and they will be better players for their experience last season.”
While Will plans to remain true to his brother’s vision, he admits that he will also put his own stamp on the team.
“James’ vision was to create the most professional environment possible – and that will not change,” Will added. “We must keep pushing forward.
“However, I would not be true to myself if I did not bring in my own ideas and look at the way we play. I will focus on the players we have and make any changes that I think will benefit them.”
Will must hit the ground running as he has a two-year plan to live up to. The first challenge is to lead ’Stoke straight back to National Three London by winning promotion.
“We have a two-year plan to bounce back by winning this league and then establish ourselves in the National League next season,” he said.
“A lot of this team were not with us when we got promoted, and we lost more games than we won last season. Hopefully, that will be reversed this year and I am looking forward to seeing them go into games with a bit more confidence.”
Chairman Steve Tristram is disappointed to lose James, but believes that the future looks bright with Will at the helm.
“James has done a really good job for us,” the ’Stoke chairman said. “I know he was disappointed that we were relegated, but in truth, we were relegated from a very professional league.
“In terms of playing environment and getting more people playing, he has been brilliant and as far as I am concerned, he leaves with his head held high.
“It gives Will a real opportunity to show what he is like on his own and I am excited about the future.
“Will is very keen. He did a good job with the forwards under James and now has the chance to do things his own way.”