The 1st XV kick off their campaign in London 2 South West division against Winchester this Saturday (3pm) aiming for "a top four finish" at the end of the season writes Brian Seeney.

Interim Head Coach Simon Pickett, who took charge in mid-August after Head Coach Barry Bridgman temporarily stepped down from his duties for personal family reasons, said: "Barry's target is the top four and collectively as a group that's what we are aiming for.

"We are looking for top four and possibly promotion because the guys are strong and they want to get back to that level and test themselves again. They want to show that last season was a learning curve and that they can develop this season and get back there and give it a real go.

"But it's not an easy start to the season playing Winchester then Eastleigh, even though they are both home games.

"We want to start well with two Ws because rugby is very much a game of momentum.

"Rugby, like any sport, tends to be a results-driven thing and with all the defeats of the last couple of seasons it's easy to take it to heart and for heads to drop.

"The players have worked hard over the summer. They are much fitter and are looking to produce the best they possibly can.

"We've come down a level (from London 1 South) but it is still going to be difficult.

"In training there has been a big concentration on the rugby aspect, driving the fitness through with a rugby ball in their hands which has been the big difference for me.

"We have been supporting Barry's ideology - rather than throwing weights around in the summer with not much involvement with a rugby ball, we've tried to avoid just strength and conditioning and done much more with a ball in hand. Hopefully that will show in matches on Saturdays."

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Temporarily taking over from Bridgman has certainly been a challenge for 32-year-old Pickett who is a Petty Officer Logistics in the Royal Navy and a former 1st XV regular.

"I can't fully commit because my ship goes away in January, coming out of refit and going on sea trials, so I was looking to do as much as I could in the assistant coach role," admitted Pickett.

"I was looking to support Barry as best I could and do my bit for the club having got my level 2 coaching qualification which the club supported me through.

"But then with Barry having to step away for family reasons it was a natural step up for me because I'm keen to develop my coaching skills and this is an ideal opportunity for me in the interim.

"The circumstances in which I took over aren't great and I would have preferred different circumstances. But it's a case of supporting Barry and supporting the club.

"Putting that situation to one side, there has been a job to do and I have thoroughly enjoyed that job.

"The players have reacted well and taking guidance on board. It has been very much a two-way conversation with the players and me because they have to buy in to the game plan and develop it because they are the ones who have to go out on the paddock on a Saturday and execute that plan. If they don't believe in it then the end result that we want will not come."

Pickett (pictured) is particularly pleased with a change of emphasis in training as regards attendances at the Tuesday and Thursday pre-season sessions.

"What has impressed me is that we used to have a bit of a habit where Tuesdays were poor numbers and Thursdays were good before the weekend game.

"Recently it seems to have evened up and Tuesday nights are as well attended as Thursday nights.

"For a coach that's great because it means you can work on stuff both nights rather than having to adapt on a Tuesday night because of lack of numbers.

"We've been able to do rugby stuff both nights and really work hard because we are looking to execute better."

Pickett will make his first competitive team selection on Thursday night after training for Saturday's derby clash with Winchester.

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