Recruitment drive puts Lions on front foot for Premier campaign (From Bournemouth Echo)

WILL Croker admits a summer of “productive” recruitment has put Bournemouth in a fine position to launch their assault on the newly-named South West Premier.

Ambitious head coach Croker has brought in a raft of new faces since witnessing his team record a second straight fifth-place finish.

Centre Leon Esera, who has played Bay of Plenty Premier rugby for Tauranga Sports, comes in alongside fly-half Johnny O’Hehir and his brother Joe, a centre, with both being graduates of Leinster’s academy.

Joe Gwyther and former vice-captain Frazer Wilford have rejoined while experienced back-row Richard Sharp, who most recently played for Barnes, is another new recruit.

Army and Combined Services loosehead Stephen Jenkinson has checked in as has lock Adam MacDonald, who played under Croker’s charge at Basingstoke.

There have been no high-profile departures to speak of, although Dan Cawley, Rob Bruce, Eddie Edwards and Duncan Soden may feature more sparsely for the first team in 2017-18.

The new-look squad will contest its first pre-season fixture tomorrow when South West One East side Witney pay a visit to Chapel Gate (3pm).

Reflecting on his signings, Croker told the Daily Echo: “We’ve had a really productive summer in terms of new recruits.

“We have six guys who have played or could play loosehead, which is incredible at our level, as well as five hookers, five or six locks, several scrum-halves, four fly-halves and five centres.

“There are a minimum of two players in every position and they aren’t squad players. If I wanted to go out into the leagues and find better, I probably wouldn’t find many.

“We are really excited about it. It’s a really good group.”

Lions are due to entertain London Irish Wild Geese and Havant in a three-way contest on Saturday, August 19, playing 40 minutes against both sides.

That will coincide with a family fun day at the club, which is set to begin at midday and finish at 6pm.

However, Witney are foremost in Croker’s mind for now and he believes his players are ready for battle.

He said: “We are going to pick a squad of 30 for this weekend so all the players will get a decent amount of game time.

“We’ve been contact since week one. I don’t believe in getting players fit for the first month before going into contact.

“The long and the short of it is the sooner guys get their bodies accustomed to the physicality, the better it will be.

“We’ve picked up a couple of injuries in pre-season training based on the physicality but it means the boys are now ready and are champing at the bit to get going.”

Four new teams have joined the South West Premier, three of those being promoted sides Weston-super-Mare, Maidenhead and Newbury Blues, who Lions face in the league curtain-raiser on Saturday, September 2.

Old Redcliffians departed as champions, while Launceston, Salisbury and Bromsgrove were relegated.

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