The 1st XV couldn't have asked for a tougher start to 2018 when they play three of the top four sides in London 2 South West this month, beginning with second placed Old Reigatian at Gosport Park tomorrow (2pm) writes Brian Seeney.

In a week's time they go to third placed Twickenham and after a week off, end January at home to fourth placed KCS Old Boys.

"These next three games are a big ask and whilst I wouldn't say they are season defining, they will certainly influence where we end up this season in the league," Head Coach Barry Bridgman told me after training last night.

"Three wins this month would be tremendous, two out of three would be not bad and one out of three is just about acceptable.

"But losing all three will put us back down the table I suspect, because some of those bottom teams are playing each other and that will sort things until we play the bottom sides again.

"I'm not despondent about having to play three of the top four clubs early on but we need to carry on the momentum we have built up if we can.

"It is a difficult start to the year but it's better that we've got the first of those games at home and then another at the end of the month."

After getting uncomfortably close to the relegation places in November, wining just once in seven league games, Gos have hauled themselves up to seventh in the table with three wins from their last three games. Nevertheless, they are still 12 points off the top four and 20 points adrift of tomorrow's opponents.

"We want to be in the top half and at the end of the season I'd like to be no lower than sixth if we can," said Bridgman.

"I certainly don't want to see us sliding into that lower part of the table again.

"The fourth position is doable and that will depend on the next three games and if we can get a couple of wins in January it is definitely attainable.

"That means we could peg back the top teams and of course we would move away from the lower half of the league.

Reigatian WEB

"I don't think we can catch the top two teams because that would be hard and we need to still improve quite considerably in order to push for the top two or three places. I'm not sure we have enough time left (this season) to improve that much but I'm not ruling that out..."

Old Reigatian won their last game 21-8 against bottom side Effingham & Leatherhead but their two previous matches ended in narrow defeats at Old Tonbridgians (35-34) and home to table toppers and promotion favourites Camberley (30-34).

As the injury and unavailability list shortens, Bridgman has been able to "pick from strength" this week with over 60 players available, although a late cry-off by Winchester 2s means there's no Gos 2nd XV game tomorrow.

"We have several people coming back from injury and hopefully that keeps on," he said.

"We've a strong side out tomorrow and hopefully we can keep picking from strength.

"Old Reigatian are obviously a useful outfit because they've been second most of the season and even managed top spot once so we will have to fight hard tomorrow and get our defence right and our kicking options right to play territory when we want to."

Gos are without influential in-form centre Dom Holling who will be out for several weeks after breaking broken bones in his right hand in the 7-12 win at Eastleigh last time which were only discovered this week.

His place goes to Joe Traynor whilst Will Baxandall comes in on the wing for Shaun Taylor who benches.

Sean Shepherd resumes at number 8 allowing Ben Roberts to move to the second row whilst Louis Bristow is still waiting to hear how long a ban he will serve for his red card at Eastleigh.

Simon Trivett returns for Bristow, Ethan Carpenter comes back into the back row and Alex Collard is recalled at hooker.

In the day's other game, the 3rd XV are at home to Petersfield 3s in the Snows Solent 4 League (2pm).

Gos 1st XV tomorrow:
15 Alex Heron
14 Rory Penfold
13 Wayne Dugan
12 Joe Traynor
11 Will Baxandall
10 Alex Duncombe
9 Wes Dugan (Captain)
8 Sean Shepherd
7 Grant Hill
6 Ethan Carpenter
5 Simon Trivett
4 Ben Roberts
3 Daniel O'Donoghue
2 Alex Collard
1 Carl Dawson
Replacements:
16 Peter Erne
17 Anthony Reynolds
18 Shaun Taylor.

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