Portsmouth coach Ian Chandler is backing his young side to win four of their last six games to maintain their London one south status – starting against Haywards Heath at Rugby Camp tomorrow (3pm).
Five successive defeats have sent the Hilsea club plummeting into the bottom three but Chandler believes his side have what it takes to survive.
‘We realise we are in danger and this is an important game,’ said Chandler.
‘All our injured players are coming back so there can be no excuses.
‘Although the results have not gone our way since Christmas, the performances have been good and we have remained in good spirit.
‘We find ourselves in a league that is a sort of halfway house between the haves and the have-nots.
‘Our team doesn’t have the stars some of the top sides have and they are just good, honest lads putting in a good shift.
‘Over the past few weeks, we have been working hard to get our fitness levels up and we are ready for the final challenge.’
Portsmouth are boosted by the return of a number of influential players from injuries and will also benefit from the recall of ‘ace-finisher’, 36-year-old Matt Gronow from the vets.
Key three-quarters, Dan Neville at outside half and inside centre Gareth Richards, are back after a spell out injured.
Their experience, quality and communication will make a big difference.
‘Silver Fox Gronow will be joined on the other wing by Patrick Bion, who is back from his university studies, to give the team a greater cutting edge and finishing power.
Tom Hankey reclaims his position in the front row of the pack after recovering from his recent back problems.
Portsmouth showed in their most recent home game against title-chasing Old Elthamians that they are capable of taking on and competing against any side in their league.
Not for the first time, though, they paid for their inexperience and lost out in the end.
‘We had them on the back foot for long periods,’ said Chandler.
‘Our forwards took them on and we created chances.
‘Failure to take those chances at vital times cost us and they made us pay the price when we relaxed just for a few minutes.
‘With our first-choice players back, we should be able to make pressure count.
‘We lost at Haywards Heath earlier this season and we know they will be competitive.
‘They rely a lot on forward domination but our pack have shown they can face up to that.
‘We have no reason to be fearful of them and must look to get the right result.
‘I won’t call it a must-win game because that heaps too much pressure on but it is very important.’
Portsmouth: Duffus, Bion, Gee, Barnes, Richards, Gronow, Neville, O’Connor, Hankey, Cripps, Houlihan, Richardson, J Crabb, Brock, Crabb, Long.
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