MATT Clarke is hoping Witney can continue to surprise under his captaincy.

The influential centre has taken over as skipper of the first XV from scrum half Gareth Campbell.

Clarke, who has been at the club for six years, inherits a side which has more than held their own in the sixth tier of English rugby for just under a decade.

Witney, who reached the Oxfordshire Cup final last season, have secured six finishes in the top-five during their eight years in South West 1 East.

And new captain Clarke sees no reason why the side cannot push on.

The 33-year-old said: “Every year people right us off as the underdogs.

“We’re classed as a social side and every time people think this will be the year Witney will go down.

“We have consistently proved people wrong.

“We could probably target the top three and push for the play-off, there’s no reason why we can’t do that.

“We’ve got the coaches and the players, we can certainly prove people wrong.”

Clarke, who works as an aircraft engineer at RAF Brize Norton, has taken over the captaincy from Campbell, who spent five seasons in the role.

The new skipper is under no illusions he has a tough act to follow.

He said: “We were a bit worried he was going to stop playing.

“However, he’s said he’ll carry on, but he thought it was time for a change.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill with everything he has done and goes before him.

“I will carry on with the same ideas and try to put my own stamp on it.”

Witney are very much a local team, with a mixture of experience, players coming through from the colts and RAF personnel who have called the town their home.

Clarke is keen for the club to keep their identity.

He said: “Every week the team seems to get younger and younger and us older boys are glad to see that.

“We’re praying more youngsters come through.

“But it’s important to have older lads that have been around the block a little while and to push the younger lads in the right direction.

“There’s a lot of lads that have been in and around the club a long time, their parents have been here and it’s a great thing we have at Witney.

“People want to stay at this club, they like it here.

“I’ve been at the club for six years and I feel like I’m one of the (local) people rather than from the RAF.”