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'Stoke aim to pile pressure on promotion rivals
BASINGSTOKE RFC director of rugby James Croker says his side can crank up the pressure on promotion rivals Chichester by taking maximum points from three upcoming away games.
’Stoke face a tricky set of fixtures in February, with Saturday’s trip to Hove followed by away games at Dover and Haywards Heath.
All three matches involve journeys of at least an hour-and-a-half – but if Basingstoke can secure bonus point victories in each one, they are sure to remain no more than one point behind second-placed Chichester.
The Sussex side face a tough trip to Sidcup in two week’s time, while their season could be made or broken in March, when they travel to fourth-placed Wimbledon and host runaway leaders East Grinstead.
Croker said: “If we can come through February with maximum points then we can start to look forward because there will be all to play for. Sidcup don’t score that many points but they do not concede that many either, so Chichester will have to work hard for the bonus point that day, while they have some crucial fixtures in March.
“February is tough in that we have three away games, with three reasonably long journeys – but they are games that we should be winning.
“It will be tough down at Hove but if we can go there and get maximum points it will set us up well for the next two games.”
Basingstoke go into Saturday’s game on the back of four straight wins and having won 12 of their last 13. Hove are seventh in the London One South table but they boast a talented set of backs and are more than capable of causing an upset, as they showed by beating Chichester in December.
“Hove have got some good backs – but they cannot do anything if they don’t have the ball. We need to make sure we win set-pieces, stay competitive at the breakdown and look to build from there.
“Hove are like us. They like to play a nice brand of rugby and they do rack up the points. Hopefully it will not be too entertaining but it is two sides who like to play nice stuff.”
Croker will be without four first-team regulars for the game, including his entire first-choice second row of Andy Hore and Jake Henderson. Will Ford, who has been playing No 8, looks set to step into the breach, with Ryan Davis taking his place in the back row.
Winger Karl Buttle will also sit the game out but Ash Paterson should return at full-back after missing last week’s win over Havant with a dead leg, allowing Gavin Dampies to move back to the wing. Fly-half Adam Davies is also unavailable, so Jack Parsons is likely to retain the number 10 shirt.