Hampshire set sights on Twickenham
Senior coach Ian Chandler expects his Hampshire players to do their duty as they open up their County Championship campaign against Dorset & Wilts at Gosport Park tomorrow (3pm).
And it promises to be a special occasion for Gosport & Fareham rugby club who are hosting their first-ever competitive Hampshire game.
Chandler and Simon Burns have been drafted in this year to try to invigorate the representative team in a bid to become more successful in the competition.
The winners of their group – which also contains Berkshire – will progress into the semi-finals, where a final place at Twickenham will be at stake.
In a bid to inspire the current crop of county players, the squad were presented with their selection letters by Hampshire President, Ian Kerr OBE, on HMS Victory in midweek.
For Chandler and Burns, a key feature has been getting the local club coaches on board.
‘Our main priority was to get people to feel that representing the county was a great honour again,’ said Chandler.
‘One of my prized possessions still is the letter I received when I was first selected to play for the county all those years ago.
‘Simon and I have been visiting clubs up and down the county speaking to the coach and players.
‘We have involved the coaches because they see their players week in, week out and have invaluable knowledge about them.
‘Alongside this we also appointed a coaching team that understands the value of county rugby.
‘Will Knight, Dylan Raubenheimer and Neil McRoberts were also involved last season so that gives us some continuity.
‘For the players it is a great way to finish the season, playing a good standard alongside the best players in the area.’
The players selected come from a number of different clubs, with Havant, Portsmouth and Gosport & Fareham all represented.
Portsmouth have prop-forward Tom Hankey in the starting line-up, with Ryan Wilkie, Darren Crabb and Curtis Barnes featuring in the replacements.
Harrison Young, Graham Butterworth and Joel Knight, from Havant, all start, with Luke Marks waiting in the wings.
Host club Gosport & Fareham are represented by the Dugan brothers Wayne and Wes, with the latter captaining the side.
The team, after a good performance against the Royal Navy in a warm-up game, have gelled really quickly and have impressed in the training sessions so far.
‘There is a real buzz about the side,’ added Chandler.
‘We feel that we have got an excellent blend of youth and experience.
‘In recent years the county side have under-performed and our aim is to go all the way to Twickenham and win it.
‘It won’t be easy but we believe we possess the quality of players to achieve that.
‘We see the county team as an opportunity to showcase Hampshire rugby and this competition as a chance to put the county back on the rugby map.’
Hampshire: Alex Sutherland, Wayne Dugan, Greg Sullivan, Joel Knight, Luke Chandler, Pierre-Alex Clark, Wes Dugan, Joe Tarrant, Ben Allman, Tom Hankey, Ali Ramus, Harrison Young, Elliott Worrall, Joe Rees, Grham Butterworth. Replacements: Luke Marks, Sean Shephard, Ryan Wilkie, Darren Crabb, Harry Dolbear, Jake Hiscock, Curtis Barnes