Director of Rugby, John Barnes, is expecting Hartpury’s rock-solid rearguard to come under heavy assault when his National League One high-flyers face Fylde on Saturday (2.30pm kick-off).
Barnes’ men are currently sitting at the league summit, in large part due to their stingy defence in the opening weeks of the season. They have seen their line breached only three times in their three early wins over Blackheath (34-0), Plymouth Albion (34-17) and last weekend at Esher (32-13), scoring 14 tries in reply.
But the man at the Hartpury RFC helm is expecting to face a different kind of challenge to what they have encountered so far when they host Fylde.
He said: “Fylde may have lost all three of their games so far but that will just make them all the more desperate for a win and we’ve had some very tight games against them in the past two years.
“They like to play attacking rugby. They don’t rely on the set piece and they don’t like to kick. We’re expecting them to move the ball around and come at us, especially now they have former England coach, Brian Ashton, back there. I think our defence is going to be tested.
“Plus we have our BUCS first and second teams both in action this week. It will be good for some of the lads who haven’t played since pre-season to get some game time but it’s also the first time the senior squad has come under pressure in that way this season.”
Not only are Hartpury in fine form though, they also look set to be back at full strength for this weekend. With players like Steve Leonard, Ben Chan, Joe Dancer and Harlequins’ man, winger Jonas Mikalcius, all looking set to be fit again after injury and dual registered players like Zach Mercer and Adam Hastings likely to be available for selection, Fylde will need to prepare to face a formidable force.
“It’s been pleasing to see us take bonus points against some strong sides and be more ruthless in our approach so far this season,” added Barnes.
“We’ve worked on our defence and that’s showed. The scoreline flattered us a little at Esher last week but we got on top in that last 15 minutes, particularly in the set piece, and we were able to pull away.
“Esher are the link team for Quins and we lost there last year so to pick up five points on the road is no mean feat.”
Hartpury comfortably saw off Fylde 39-12 at the College last season (pictured – Jake Polledri on the charge) but only claimed a narrow victory up north, clinching an 18-17 win.
In other fixtures this weekend, there is a heavyweight clash at Well Hall where Blackheath will be looking to build on two successive wins when they face Coventry, 9-try victors over Macclesfield last time out. Also in the London area, Esher will be looking to bounce back when Plymouth Albion are the visitors.
Few people would have expected Rosslyn Park to be looking for their first win in Week 4 and they now face another potentially testing afternoon against an Old Albanian team that has arguably surpassed expectations with their early season results. Loughborough are also going well after an opening day defeat and they face an Ampthill side that will be looking to show that last week’s home reversal was just a blip.
Their conquerors from the last round, DMP, will be hopeful of backing up that result up with a home win over visitors Cambridge while another winless team, Blaydon, will do well to get something from their visit to Birmingham Moseley. Macclesfield host Ionians in the round’s other fixture in a game that both teams will have targeted for points.