There’s a real buzz around the ‘Goodship’ ground at the moment as Andover finalise their preparations for the challenge of London south west division two rugby for the first time in over ten years.
Promoted for the second time in a row last term, the Oakwood sponsored ‘Hampshire All Blacks’ have worked hard all summer to make sure they are ready for their journey into the unknown.
“We realise this will be another step up in class for us, but we have a strong squad many of whom have played at a higher level before and know what it takes” said Head coach Andy Waite.
“The experience of last year has enabled us to improve our preparation this time round and we feel confident we can do well in this league. We have retained all of last year’s squad apart from player coach Marc Wilding who is long term injured and may have to retire completely.”
“Although that is a real blow, on the other hand we’ve signed a few new players and have another batch of exciting youngsters coming off of the Academy production line. Overall I feel the squad is significantly stronger than last season.”
Indeed Andover have strengthened well with new faces Ed Williams an exciting young back three player, joining from Congleton RFC in Cheshire having moved to the area and Michael Roberts an ex Salisbury and Havant first team number eight also coming in.
Former academy products Ollie Lindridge, Jack Stott, James Monk and Matt Chant also all return to the club.
Lindridge a tall athletic back row player returns from two years in New Zealand.
Stott; an enigmatic centre and Andover’s top scorer in their Hampshire league winning season; comes back from a spell in Ireland.
Chant is a young, blisteringly quick winger who played for Harlequins academy last year and Monk is a powerful tight head prop who has been playing top class rugby in Wales.
On top of these players Andover also have exciting youngsters Evan Gwynne Davies (centre), Sam Preece (wing/scrumhalf), Ben Cicotti ( back row ) and seventeen year old county back row star Jordan Gray, all coming through to the wider squad from the academy.
Gray, in particular looks an outstanding prospect and Andover expect him to play at least some first team rugby this year.
“Part of our success in the past few years has been a togetherness and team spirit that comes from having a team who wear the badge with pride” said Waite
“Every player we have, has either come through the academy or has moved to the area and has a real connection with the town and the club. ‘We have also developed a coaching and management team in this image and it’s so important to us.”
Although injured, Wilding continues as senior coach and alongside Sam Froggett has really put the squad through its paces during the break and is pleased with the result.
“It’s going to be tough not to be out there with them, but the lads have worked hard. We look superb in our tight play and we’ve tried to add another aspect to our attacking play, which will give us even more options when we have the ball” he said.
“It’s an exciting challenge and we intend to give it a real go.”