Hampshire are targeting a third successive Twickenham final when they start their Bill Beaumont County Championship campaign against North Midlands at Gosport Park tomorrow (3pm).
After winning the County Championship Shield two seasons ago, the county were promoted into the senior competition.
In a remarkable first term at the top level they finished as beaten finalists, losing to Leicestershire.
Ian Chandler is expecting it to be tougher this term but remains optimistic another final is within their grasp.
‘Last year we had the element of surprise on our side,’ said the senior coach.
‘Our opponents looked us as little old Hampshire expecting us to be the whipping boys.
‘This time they all know exactly what we are capable of.
‘It will be twice as tough this time around.
‘Many thought we exceeded expectations last time around but I just think the team played to its potential.
‘In the final we came up against a team that had been eight years in the making.
‘We got there in two which is a credit to all the hard work put in by the players, coaching and management staff.’
Hampshire have come a long way in the past few years.
When the current team took over three years ago they found a situation where they had to scrabble around trying to get players to represent the county.
They were in a position where they had to ask players to play.
Now players are queuing up to want to play in a creditable set-up.
Chandler added: ‘It has taken a lot of effort from Rob Batley and staff to turn it around.’
Hampshire are boosted by a number of new faces and the availability of players who missed last season.
New faces in the squad include prop-forwards George Primett, Luca Firetto and full-back Grant Hancox.
The Knight brothers, Jacob and Joel, from Havant, are re-united in the three-quarters after the latter was injured last season.
Portsmouth player Curtis Barnes is also back after missing last year through injury.