Rugby: Old Hales set the standard for us to follow, says Stoke captain Chris Rowley
TITLE-CHASING Old Halesonians will provide a benchmark for a Stoke team trying to build for promotion next season, says skipper Chris Rowley.
Old Halesonians finished fifth in Midlands One West last year before adding a couple of new faces and mounting a charge for the top this time around.
It is a script that Stoke, who sit sixth with five games to play in their first season back playing at that level, hope to follow.
Rowley's side are also keen to show how much they have improved since Old Hales beat them 32-25 in October when the two sides meet again at Barlaston on Saturday.
The captain, below, said: "We knew at the start of the season that Old Hales would be up there.
"They strengthened a little and are now where we would like to be this time next year.
"In terms of quality of players we are probably pretty similarly matched, although they have a bigger squad to choose from.
"We can push on like they have and it will be interesting to see how far we have progressed."
The additions of inside centre Tom Hughes, back row Carl Williams and utility back Dan Duggan last summer have helped promoted Stoke be a match for most sides in Midlands One.
Rowley believes a similar trickle of top talent in the close season could be all that is needed to take his team up another gear.
For now, colts may be blooded over the next month-and-a-half as Stoke take advantage of their safe position in the table.
"Tom, Carl and Dan have performed every week and if we can perhaps add three quality players it will make a big difference," Rowley said. "As far as this season goes, we will try to bring some of the colts through once they have got a couple of big junior cup games out of the way.
"Some of them are 18 and ready to go. We will start to integrate a few and expand our senior squad a little bit."
Outside centre Simon Price is probably out for at least a month after tearing his chest muscle away from his shoulder in last week's 38-10 win over Whitchurch.
Winger Paul Ramage is unavailable for a game when second-placed Old Hales are aiming to leapfrog Worcester Wanderers into pole position.
Old Hales currently sit one point adrift of their rivals, who are not in action this weekend.
Rowley said: "We know what to expect from Old Hales. They have been doing really well and they've got a big, strong side. We know a lot of their players.
"They were on a good run when we last met and we played quite well, but still messed a few chances up.
"They have continued to improve since then, as we have, and we will have to match them up front and use the ball well if we are going to get a result.
"Everyone is looking forward to it. We are not worried about them and we can play without pressure. They are in a big promotion battle, but we'll just enjoy ourselves."