NEW Basingstoke RFC head coach Mark Fricker is keen to build on the positive culture former head coach Gareth Hatherley-Hurford brought to the club.

He has be assistant at the club for the past two years and now steps up to the hot seat for Saturday’s London Three South West opener against visiting Hampshire rivals New Milton and District, which has a 3pm kick-off.

Last season, Stoke finished fourth in London Three South West and will be expected to be one of the sides in the promotion shake-up this this time around.

New head coach Fricker said: “We are going through another slight transitional period, with a few of the more senior players either retiring or moving away from the area.

"This includes captain Robbie Northcote who has now hung up his boots after doing an excellent job for the past two seasons and has always been a fantastic ambassador for the club.

Jon Bird, an equally talented and experienced player will be taking up the 1st team captaincy for this coming season.”

He added: “Recruitment has gone extremely well during the summer months and we are now looking at a very skilful, dynamic, youthful and ambitious squad.

“I honestly feel that there is a real buzz being generated at the club at the moment.

"I’m really excited about how this newly formed squad will face up to all the unique challenges this very tricky league will throw at us.”

Looking ahead to the season opener against New Milton on Saturday.

They were promoted last season after they finished second in Hampshire One, returning the same amount of points as champions Petersfield.

Stoke head coach Fricker said: "New Milton are a very well structured team with a strong set piece and driving maul game.

"Luckily, we had faced very similar challenges in our recent warm-up games, so I’m hoping that our previous experiences and thorough preparation will ensure the win.”

l Three other local rugby teams start their league campaigns this Saturday.

Tadley Tigers are away at Crowthorne in the Berks Bucks and Oxon Premier.

Newly promoted Overton are away at Bognor in Hampshire One, while Chineham are home to Southampton in Hampshire Two.