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Tough start to season for Basingstoke RFC
BASINGSTOKE RFC will have to be on their game from the first whistle of the new season after being handed a potentially crucial fixture on the opening day.
The Down Grange club get their London One South campaign under way on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) with a home game against East Grinstead – the side that director of rugby James Croker sees as their main rivals for the title.
The Sussex side may be new to the division, having been promoted at the end of last season, but they have a lot of money behind them and are expected to challenge strongly.
Croker said: “I see East Grinstead as the main danger. Money talks at this level of rugby and they are super-rich now. Any team coming through with money and ambition is going to be a threat. “It’s a very, very competitive first game but we have got to play them at some point. If the guys put in the performance they are capable of, then I am confident we will get the result.
“We have got to make sure we are solid in defence, win our fair share of possession and do something with it in the scoring zone. If we do not manage that then we will be the architects of our own demise because you need to keep chipping away at the scoreboard.”
Scoring the points that their play warranted was ’Stoke’s main problem last season. They failed to win a number of close matches against the other sides at the top of the table and were also unable to claim enough bonus points by putting sides to the sword.
Croker has moved to remedy this by signing two exciting wingers in Karl Buttle and Gavin Dampies. It will be Buttle’s second spell at the club, while Dampies has a good record from his time at Tadley and Reading Abbey.
“We have got a bit more attacking threat this year,” Croker said. “The likes of Ashley Paterson, Gareth Kelly and Freddie Gleadowe all scored a lot of tries last year and we have brought in Karl Buttle and Gavin Dampies as well.
“Now we need to make sure we give them the ball in space at the right time. That is the key.”
The other major signings of the summer are England Colleges centre Jack Parsons and scrum-half Guy Wilkinson. In addition, Croker has kept hold of almost all of the players that helped ’Stoke to fourth place last season.
That includes flanker Simon Appleby, who came out of retirement towards the end of the last campaign and has now made himself available full-time, while prop Neil Young will captain the side once again.
The squad looks exceptionally strong on paper and promotion back to National Three London seems a real possibility.
“A top-two finish is what we expect and would add to what we did last year,” Croker said. “Promotion is the aim but we want to make sure we continue to perform well because if you do that then the results will come.
“It’s a very competitive league in that there is a lot of Hampshire rivalry. That means there are potential banana skins throughout the league – but we handled that well last year.”