Ben Dudley is optimistic Portsmouth can challenge at the top of London two south west as they open their campaign against Camberley at Rugby Camp (3pm).
It is Dudley’s second campaign in charge – and he saw the team make an improved showing last season.
After a number of years battling against relegation, the city club finished fifth, and the head coach is looking for his troops to improve again.
‘I have to be pleased with the progress we made last season,’ said Dudley.
‘By the half-way stage we had picked up more points than in the whole of the previous season.
‘That was even more incredible when you consider that we lost our three opening league games.
‘From that point onwards we did pretty well.
‘Initially, our strength was in our combative set of forwards who always gave us dominance or at least parity up front.
‘As the season wore on we saw our exciting young set of three quarters start to capitalise on that.
‘I am looking for us to build on that this season.
‘We want to continue playing an enjoyable brand of rugby that the players look forward to playing.
‘There hasn’t been a massive recruitment drive because we have confidence in the squad from last year.
‘We have kept the nucleus of our squad and are looking forward to seeing what they can achieve a year further down the line.’
Dudley has been boosted by the return to the club of a number of ex-players and others coming back from injury.
In the forwards, Rhys Bowen is back after a couple of seasons out with fitness problems.
He is joined in the back row by Portsmouth University student James Kelly.
In the centre, Harry Hodell has come back into the area after being away at university.
At full-back, Stuart Davies has joined from London one south outfit Tottonians and will bring his higher-level experience to that position.
He lives locally but has found the commute to the other side of Southampton difficult due to work commitments
Another bonus is the availability of last season’s captain Damien Gibbs up until Christmas.
He has been away in New Zealand on Royal Navy duties.
Portsmouth have the luxury of starting the season with two successive home games. After Camberley, local rivals Winchester visit Rugby Camp next weekend.
‘Starting with two home games it is important that we get out of the blocks well,’ added Dudley.
‘It gives us a chance to generate some early momentum.
‘More importantly, though, I want us to play well.
‘We have prepared well during the summer and the players are chomping at the bit to get started.’
Hamish Laybourne is given his debut on the wing after impressing during pre-season.
Portsmouth: Stuart Davies, Hamish Laybourne, Cameron Duffus, Gareth Richards, Dan Gates, Andy Barnes, Alex Duffus,
Sam Cutting, Jackson Clark, Ian French, Darren Crabb,
Darren Leggott, Anthony Fookes, Greg Houlihan, Rhys Bowen.
Replacements: Tom Smith, Damien Gibbs, Simon Morgan