HEAD Coach Will Croker heaped praise on Lions stalwart Sam Hardcastle and insisted: “You can’t buy his sort of experience.”

Scrum-half Hardcastle chalked up his 300th senior appearance for Bournemouth during their 27-21 defeat to Newbury Blues in South West Premier on Saturday.

The 36-year-old has been with the club for 25 years since starting in the under-11 ranks.

He made his senior debut against Swanage & Wareham in March 1999 and is the club’s record points scorer with 893 in total, scoring 172 tries in the process.

Asked about the milestone achieved by his evergreen scrum-half, Croker told the Daily Echo: “It’s very, very rare in rugby for someone to play 300 games for one club.

“Either their body breaks or they get tempted to go somewhere else.

"Good players like Sam often move up the leagues.

“He has been an incredible servant and somebody that everyone in this club respects and has affection for.

“He is 36 now and his legs do start to go a little bit, especially on hot days, but you can’t buy his sort of experience.

“We could go and trawl the league to find a scrum-half with that sort of experience and know-how and we wouldn’t find one.”

Croker insisted his side were not at their best when they fell to defeat against the Blues in their season opener.

And the Lions coach will be looking for his charges to bounce back quickly when Bracknell visit Chapel Gate tomorrow (3pm).

Newton Abbot recorded a resounding 67-12 victory over Bracknell on Saturday.

“We have a really good opportunity to put it right,” added Croker.

“We just have to take a long hard look in the mirror. Be self-critical, self-analytical and go again.

“We have got a point to prove now.

“We need to come back and make amends. It’s a long season, all the teams are capable of beating each other.

“We don’t need to panic. There’s no need for wholesale changes, we have picked the right squad, what we have to do now is make sure those players perform.

“We are going to have to give those guys the opportunity to say sorry for last week and let’s put it right.”

Skipper Joe Rees claimed his team’s performance against Newbury was “terrible” and expressed his belief tomorrow’s clash with Bracknell was “massive” for Bournemouth.

He said: “We weren’t even firing on Saturday.

“We were terrible. There were a lot of really good players there who didn’t play a great game, so we have got loads to come.

“We were probably at 50 per cent at most. We have got to re-build.

“Bracknell at home is a massive game for us. It’s a must-win game.

“We have really got some work to do.”