Hampshire ready for step-up in county class

Injured: Joel Knight
Injured: Joel Knight
Gosport & Fareham's Sean Shepherd. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (171571-1)

Bridgman: Plenty more to come after away relief

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Ian Chandler accepts Club Hampshire face a massive challenge as they step up to tier two in the RFU County Championship.

The county side were promoted at the end of last season after beating Staffordshire in the tier-three final at Twickenham.

The higher standard means Hampshire and their opponents can field players from National One rugby – and that will only lead to added quality.

The side start their campaign against North Midlands at Dudley Kingswinsford RFC today (3pm).

Then they are at home against Somerset and Warwickshire on consecutive Saturdays at Gosport and then Havant RFC.

Chandler believes his squad are capable of giving a good account of themselves.

‘We are aware that it is going to be tough but it is a challenge that we are looking forward to,’ he said.

‘All the players are keen to go out and test themselves at this level.

‘For those playing with Hampshire clubs it is the highest they can or will have played at.

‘We can now also select some of our local players who are playing National rugby with Worthing.

‘All our squad, though, are locally born and bred, and we are also for the first time introducing greater continuity with the successful under-20s side.

‘Up until now they have been kept separate.’

Hampshire warmed up with games against the Royal Navy and Berkshire – losing narrowly to the former, before sealing a 38-17 win over the neighbouring county.

The side have, however, been hit by injuries to a number of key players – including playmaker Joel Knight.

The Havant centre picked up a serious foot injury towards the end of the season and he will be a big miss.

Fellow centre Robbie Searle, winger Curtis Barnes and second-row forward Harry Ramus are also missing through injury.

‘Losing these players is a big blow,’ admitted Chandler.

‘Particularly Joel Knight, who played a massive part in our Twickenham success.

‘The odds are vastly against us repeating that success but it is not impossible.

‘We are more than capable of giving a good account of ourselves and winning games.

‘If we play to our real potential then we will have some success.’

– KEVIN RICKETTS