MALVERN Rugby Club take on fellow Midlands One West mid-table battlers Stoke-on-Trent tomorrow (2.15pm) unsure of the challenge their visitors will provide.

The Spring Lane side pushed them all the way in Staffordshire in September during a 31-16 defeat, even after having prop James Hynes red-carded in the opening 10 minutes.

Despite being down to 14 men, Malvern led until the final 20 minutes of the clash when Stoke’s numerical advantage told, which suggests they could overpower them on home soil this weekend.

However, Stoke, who are just two places above Malvern in eighth position, pulled off a massive shock last weekend by thrashing runaway league-leaders Lichfield 35-6 to inflict the table-toppers’ first defeat in 15 outings this term.

Malvern spokesman Peter Woods admits the Spring Lane club do not know what to expect, but remains confident as long as their game-plan is adhered to.

He said: “Lichfield didn’t have a weakened side out, so it just seems they weren’t quite up for it and Stoke played them off the park, which is hard to understand.

“Stoke are a good, solid side and they put in a great effort to beat Lichfield, but they have won a few and lost a few this season, so who knows?

“If we can keep the ball tight and play to our strengths in the forwards, we can be quite good, but the game will be decided by the backs.

“The Spring Lane pitch will be very muddy and it was unplayable last weekend, but a lot of work has been done on it and we should be OK.”

For Malvern, Hynes is unavailable and, with fellow props Pete Sharp and John Davies on the long-term injured list, the hosts have problems up front.

Phil Snare will continue to deputise in the front row, while player-coach Alan Keylock is missing with a broken bone in his foot.

Fly-half Adam Dixon sits out with a shoulder problem, but Tom Longley takes over in the number 10 shirt to link up at half-back with another returnee in James Southall.

Malvern team: Milton; Essenhigh, Watkins, Fleming, Hale; Longley, Southall; Snare, Swain, Edwards, Smith, Bywater, Preece, Hillier, Anderson. Replacements: Clark, Dunford, Rambridge.