Rugby union: Stoke ready to shrug off injuries to target fourth-place finish
STOKE are preparing for life without Sam Christmas for at least the next three weeks.
The free-scoring fly-half has been battling to recover from a knee injury, and is now expected to be out for longer than first thought.
Utility-half Dan Duggan (knee) is also on the sidelines, while Stoke are also resigned to losing hooker Rob Glenn (shoulder) for the rest of the Midlands One West season.
Captain Chris Rowley says the rest of the squad are desperate to get back in the swing of things at Ludlow on Saturday – to start chasing a top-four finish.
He said: "Most clubs are in the same boat, just ticking over for the past few weeks, so we're looking forward to getting back into action.
"The top three – Old Hales, Worcester and Lichfield – have pulled away and are probably a bit too far ahead, but we feel we can get to the top of the chasing pack.
"We want to string together a good run of results to use as a building block for an assault on the top three next season."
Stoke, who are currently seventh, have shown their potential at this level with a crushing 47-7 win over third-placed Lichfield.
They face leaders Old Halesonians, who have won 14 from 16 games this season, and second-placed Worcester Wanderers, who have only lost one game in 16, over the next month.
A tough few weeks also includes a trip to fourth-placed Burton in a Staffordshire derby rearranged from December.
Rowley knows it will be a testing period of the season that will require Stoke to produce their A game every week.
He said: "We showed we can match even the top three when we beat Lichfield by 40 points, but we now need to show we can play like that consistently.
"Perhaps it is losing focus more than anything, that means we've slipped up a couple of times.
"We are playing tough games week in, week out and you have to be mentally prepared.
"Last season we had tough games against the two or three teams around us, but won without having our foot on the gas some weeks.
"We need to get the players fully focused for every match. You cannot take anyone lightly."
Stoke walloped Ludlow 38-5 in October and the Shropshire side now sit 11th in the table, having lost both of the games they got on in January.