Cricket stumps may be replacing rugby posts around the county but two Hampshire clubs still have an eye on ending their season with silverware.
Eastleigh RFC and Ellingham and Ringwood are the last two clubs left standing in the Gales HSB Hampshire Bowl and they come face-to-face at Parsonage Barn Lane tomorrow.
Both clubs play their league rugby in the London 3 South-West division and have played one another twice already this term. The Es won 38-20 at the beginning of the season while Eastleigh triumphed 10-8 back in December.
Eastleigh finished third in the table – the highest in the club’s history – and captain Russell Smith hopes his side’s passion and consistency will give them the edge over the home team who started their league season with a bang but did not manage a league win in 2014.
Smith said: “We are absolutely buzzing ready to go for this one – we have not played for three weeks.”
Every Eastleigh player with first team experience this season has made themselves available for the long-awaited showdown.
“Selection has been a lovely headache to have because we are at full strength,” added Smith.
“We have had to tell some regular first teamers there is not a starting place for them and have seven regular first team players on the bench.”
Teammates and club members recognised Smith’s efforts as skipper over the last four years at the recent end-of-season presentation night.
Smith added: “This game is a chance for me to give something back after being given a special gift and I want us to walk away with some silverware.
“The pride and passion at Eastleigh is something that has always kept us going and that . should help us win this – the badge on the shirt means so much to us – we are one big family.”
This may be Smith’s last game as captain of Eastleigh after four years but opposition coach Steve Anderson is just as keen to end his 14-year term with the firsts on a high.
He said: “We really had a good start to the season and were chasing promotion but then a mixture of injuries and players leaving to go travelling meant a lot of changes and we suffered eight straight defeats after Christmas.”
One of those was their final fixture against New Milton, but the Es ran in four tries towards the end and that seems to have given them a much-needed confidence boost.
“We went on to beat Fordingbridge in the cup, which was a potential banana skin, had a good tour in Gloucestershire and then beat the Southampton University Medics to reach the final,” added Anderson.
“Both us and Eastleigh have strong sets of forwards and exciting backs.” In the Gales HSB Hampshire Plate, Snows Group Hampshire 1 side Farnborough host newly-promoted Fareham Heathens.