Hampshire saving best for last at Twickenham
Senior coach Ian Chandler is convinced Hampshire have saved their best for last as they take on Staffordshire in the County Championship Shield at Twickenham on Sunday (5.15pm).
The game kicks off immediately after the England v Wales international at RFU headquarters.
It promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the county players as they prepare to play at the world-famous international stadium.
The last time a Hampshire XV played in a final at Twickenham was 54 years ago when they lost to Warwickshire.
This season the side have been imperious as they easily progressed through the group stage, before dismissing Warwickshire at Webb Ellis Road in the semi-finals.
‘From the very start we set our sights on the final in an attempt to end the lean years for the county,’ said Chandler.
‘A lot of credit has to go to manager Simon Burns. He has done a lot of the work, allowing us coaches to concentrate on our job. In a sense he has made the whole thing happen.
‘We have spent a lot of time this season travelling around the clubs in the region speaking to coaches and players.
‘They all bought into what we were trying to do.
‘For the first time in a while we had players getting in contact wanting to be considered.
‘In the past the county have often been scraping around a couple of days before a game looking for players.
‘The 22 players selected for the final come from eight different clubs across the area.
‘With all the clubs having their own styles of play we had to play one which suited all the players involved.
‘Luckily, that has worked out perfectly.
‘We like to think that we have forged stronger links with the clubs and that they will also benefit when their players return to them.’
Hampshire can head into the final with confidence, after victories over Dorset & Wilts, Berkshire and Warwickshire.
In their two group games they proved far too strong for their opponents and won easily.
It was different against Warwickshire, when they had to come from behind three times before securing the win.
In all the games the forwards have provided a solid platform, guaranteeing plenty of possession for the talented three-quarters.
Gosport & Fareham’s Dugan brothers, scrum-half Wes and winger Wayne, have made a huge impact.
The latter grabbed a hat-trick in the opening match – and both have featured as try scorers in every one of the games.
At outside-half, Tottonians’ Pierre-Alex Clark has also proved a revelation with his game management and accurate kicking out of hand.
Chandler is confident that Hampshire can now go on and win it.
‘It will be a fantastic experience for the players and there is no pressure on them,’ he said. ‘They can take the shackles off and enjoy themselves.’
Hampshire: Alex Sutherland, Wayne Dugan, Robbie Seatrle,
Joel Knight, Curtis Barnes, Pierre-Alex Clark, Wes Dugan,
Joe Tarrant, Ben Allman, Ken Dowding, Ali Ramus, Elliott Worrall, Joe Rees, Steve Cruddas, Gav Hart. Replacements: Ryan Wilkie, Luke Marks, Darren Crabb, Graham Butterworth, Harry Dolbear, Jake Hiscock, Luke Chandler