Rugby clubs get ready to ruck and roll

First published in Rugby Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Rugby correspondent and sub-editor

The bulk of Hampshire clubs kick off their season tomorrow as rugby union’s staggered start is completed.

London 1 South sides already have two games tucked under their belt – with Havant and Basingstoke taking up top-of-the-table positions while Gosport & Fareham and Trojans find themselves at the wrong end.

The season also brings a new playing arena for a handful of clubs who have gone up – or slid down a tier to the league below.

Arguably, Eastleigh make the biggest step up. After years of Hampshire League competition they have won a place the London Leagues – a well-deserved reward after knocking on the door for several seasons.

Eastleigh must make two away trips – to Bognor and Sandown & Shanklin – before bringing London rugby to Bishopstoke Road on September 29 against Winchester .

Captain Russell Smith, who is still on the look-out for new players, said: “Our aim is to stay up. We are the new boys in the league and will be up against it.

“Everyone who is part of the squad has never played this standard before. It’s going to be a challenge, but one we have been looking forward to for three or four years.”

Gosport & Fareham can be just as pleased with themselves – they earned automatic promotion into London 1 South after dominating SW2 last term.

Gos have found the going tough at the new level and have lost opening games to Havant and Hove.

Southampton have bounced back and take their place in Hampshire 1 after spending a season contesting clubs at the lowest level of league rugby.

Saints easily won Hampshire 2 and will be joined one tier up by Aldershot & Fleet who finished runners-up.

Southampton were victorious in an RFU Junior Vase preliminary round tie against Egham last weekend and kick off their league campaign with a home game against Andover, newly relegated to Hampshire 1.

Saints head coach Mark Flower said: “We are really looking forward to the first league game since promotion.

“Andover are a very stiff team to come up against.

“Pre-season has gone well and with a few new faces, we are happy with the squad.

“The team has a familiar look with the exception of Luc Arnaud who has joined us from the Isle of Wight.”

Pete Fox takes over as Saints’ captain with former skipper Dave Ward only available for the first two months.

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