Basingstoke RFC sign Gavin Hart and Ben Stewart from Bournemouth

Changing times at Down Grange (l-r): Skills coach Niall Catlin, chairman Steve Tristram, head coach Will Croker, and coaches Gavin Hart and Ben Stewart

Changing times at Down Grange (l-r): Skills coach Niall Catlin, chairman Steve Tristram, head coach Will Croker, and coaches Gavin Hart and Ben Stewart Buy this photo

First published in Sport by , Sports Reporter

BASINGSTOKE RFC have set their stall out for promotion at the first attempt from London One South with the signings of Gavin Hart and Ben Stewart.

The double swoop from National League Three South West side Bournemouth will be a great boost as new head coach Will Croker plots ’Stoke’s return to National League Three London.

The new boys will also be assistant coaches at Down Grange.

Number 8 Hart will be the forwards coach, while Stewart, a centre, will take care of the backs.

Both of them arrive at ’Stoke with plenty of experience in the National Leagues.

Head coach Croker is delighted to have strengthened both his coaching and player staff in one fell swoop and said: “Last year we lost a lot of our experienced players all in one go and this really made things difficult with a young set of players.

“So having Gavin (Hart) and Ben (Stewart) join us is a great boost. They will bring new ideas and their experience will be invaluable to us.”

As well as playing at Bournemouth, Hart turned out for Havant when they were in the National Leagues, Richmond and Esher, while New Zealander Stewart has played good grade rugby in his homeland, for teams in Dunedin and Auckland, before playing for Havant.

Also joining the coaching team for the coming season is Niall Caitlin. He will be skills coach after a successful time as head of the A team.

Croker said: “Niall is another excellent addition to our coaching team and with Gavin and Ben playing it was important to have someone with me coaching from the sidelines.”

Another addition to the playing staff will be Navy second row Ed Pascoe. He will join the team at the end of September, after a rugby tour with the Navy.

Ollie John has returned to the club from New Zealand and is a straight swap for Tim Coghlan, who has left to join Henley.

Head coach Croker said: “I am excited at the way the team is shaping up for the new season.

“We have a two-year plan at the club where step one is to get promoted next season and then stay up the following year, ahead of the re-structure of the leagues.”

With this in mind, Basingstoke will face two stiff pre-season games ahead of their league opener against Dover on Saturday, September 6 at Down Grange.

They travel to East Grinstead, who are favourites to win the league Basingstoke were in last season, on August 16.

They will then face a visit from newly-promoted National League Two side Old Elthamians.

Croker said: “We wanted to make sure we had two good competitive games ahead of the season’s start, so I am very pleased with the fixtures.”

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