Hampshire relish huge task as they make step up to top level of county rugby with Herfordshire opener
Ian Chandler is under no illusions about the challenges facing Hampshire as they open up their Bill Beaumont County Championship division one campaign against Hertfordshire at Gosport Park on Saturday (3pm).
Two promotions in three years have lifted Hampshire to the top level of county rugby.
They know they will now be coming up against teams packed with National League experience.
Coach Chandler insists his side are excited by the prospect of testing themselves against the best.
He said: ‘We know this is a huge step up for us and it will be interesting to see how we get on.
‘With games played over a two-year cycle we have twice been promoted at the earliest opportunity.
‘It just goes to show the county have been producing good rugby players for years.
‘Many years ago England legend Jonny Wilkinson started in the Hampshire under-18 side.
‘There has always been talent around. In the past few years we have taken county rugby a bit more seriously and given it a better structure.
‘Before that at times the county would be scrabbling around looking to get players to play for them.
‘That has now changed and we are seeing the rewards of a lot of hard work.
‘We know this season is going to be tough but will go into it with our eyes wide open.’
Hampshire’s cause hasn’t been helped by having the whole of last season’s back-row being ruled out by injury.
Liam Perkins, Kemp Price (both Worthing) and Joe Rees (Bournemouth) are all missing.
They are boosted, however, by the return in the three-quarters of Havant’s Joel Knight who will captain the side.
Knight missed the whole of last season’s campaign through injury.
Chandler believes the three-quarters can cause Hertfordshire a lot of problems.
He added: ‘We have a very good set of backs all of whom are capable of playing national league rugby.
‘The big challenge facing us is producing enough good ball show they can attack.
‘Our forwards have a big job on their hands trying to do that.
‘We have gone for familiarity in the forwards, selecting players from Bournemouth and Havant.’
Two Havant players, scrum-half Jake Hewett and number eight Dan Munden are making their county debuts.
The Hooks Lane club are also represented by winger Wayne Dugan, and forwards Armundus Morgan, Jerome Trail, Harrison Young, Joe Davis, Luke Marks and Richard Janes.
Gosport & Fareham have Wes Dugan among the replacements alongside Portsmouth’s Tim Snowdon.