Neville: Strong look can help us ease drop fears

Dan Gates will be a key player for Portsmouth against Effingham & Leatherhead
Dan Gates will be a key player for Portsmouth against Effingham & Leatherhead
Ian French with his daughter Ella, seven, and son Joe, 10. Picture: Duncan Shepherd (180339-003)

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Portsmouth are aiming to take the wind out of Effingham & Leatherhead’s sails in their London two south west contest at Rugby Camp.

A fortnight ago the visitors boosted their confidence by ending then league leaders Gosport & Fareham’s unbeaten record with a shock win.

That also enhanced their own hopes of surviving a potential relegation battle, with Effingham now two places and five points ahead of second-from-bottom Portsmouth going into tomorrow’s game.

Portsmouth director of rugby Ed Neville is quietly confident, though, his team can come out on top and haul themselves out of the bottom three.

‘We need to start winning more games,’ said Neville.

‘With a number of players coming back our side has a strong look about it.

‘We are hoping Effingham’s recent shock result was more a case of Gosport having an off-day rather than them improving.

‘I am confident that we can start climbing the league, although losing games to the weather isn’t helping.

‘If another game is called off then we are looking at April for our next free date.

‘With a Hampshire Cup semi-final against Basingstoke to fit in, that will make life very difficult for us.

‘Playing every week also raises problems of injury and player availability.

‘It won’t make staying in this league any easier.’

The Rugby Camp-based club welcome back veteran centre Tom Radbourne and second-row Darren Crabb, who have both been unavailable for the past two weeks.

Both players will give the home side an added physicality – in the centre and in the forwards.

Radbourne has the ability to commit two or three defenders before offloading the ball in attack.

And with Dan Gates running excellent lines outside him, they can pose a threat to the Effingham defence.

That threat is ever-more potent with Curtis Barnes – hat-trick hero in his last game – and Dave Jones on the wings.

In Hampshire one, United Services Portsmouth should strengthen their promotion bid by winning at bottom club Overton.

Services are one of three teams locked on 56 points – four points behind leaders Fordingbridge.

Simon Burns’ side are in good form, winning their past four games, including an impressive 29-21 win at Solent University last time out.

‘We are starting to get players back at the right time,’ said Burns.

‘Our next three league games are against the bottom three teams.

‘If we can pick up bonus-point wins from them we can put ourselves into a good position.’

Services know their destiny lies in their own hands with games against title-chasing Fordingbridge and Millbrook in the closing weeks of the season.