Rugby: The battle lines have been drawn for buoyant Bletchley

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THE new rugby season is shaping up to be the most important in several years for Bletchley as they hope to survive in the South West 1 East league, which will be tougher than ever before in 2012/13,

With the division inheriting more big clubs from the higher leagues, Bletchley will be considered one of the favourites to go down by most of their rivals.

The men from Manor Fields are no strangers to the underdogs tag having more than held their own at level six of English rugby for the last six years.

But with this summer’s restructuring seeing the South West 1 East division become even stronger, Bletchley will probably need to exceed expectations like never before just to avoid relegation.

“We would like to finish in the top half of mid-table, but we know it will be very tough and staying up will be a fantastic achievement,” said head coach Stuart Van Roooyen.

“Things are going well in pre-season training though – we have been having up to 55 senior players turn out for our training sessions and we have a strong first team squad of about 25.

“We’ve kept the squad that finished last season well together and added a few quality players to strengthen. But we have a tough start to the season as we play some of the teams you would expect to be up the top of the table at the end, so we will need to start well.”

Bletchley finished last season 10th in the 14-team South West 1 East division, but picked up some notable scalps on the way – beating three of the top four sides to prove they merited their place in a league made up of teams from as far afield as Salisbury, Cheltenham and Swanage.

They secured their league status for another year by completing an historic double over rivals Wycombe, who they will line up against next season too.

Before then Bletchley will kick-off their campaign at home to Bracknell on September 1 following two friendly games against Luton this Friday and Buckingham – relegated from South West 1 East with Olney – six days later.

Van Roooyen believes Bracknell and Newbury Blues – who are both coming down from level five – will present two of the biggest challenges to his side as they hope to survive for another year.

After lengthy injuries to key players saw Bletchley make a slow start to the 2011/12 campaign, their head coach is conscious that a good start to the new season is important.

“Of course we would like to make a strong start, but it’s going to be tough against teams like Bracknell, Reading and Cheltenham in our opening three games,” he said.

“We proved last year that we can take on and beat the best sides so we’ll need to do that again. On our day, with a full squad to pick from, we’re a good team.

“We have a big friendly game against Luton which will provide a great test for us, and we also play Buckingham to get us ready for the first big fixture.

“Even if we don’t start well we must remain confident of picking up results and we’ll never go down without a fight.”