Following last week’s draw with Yorkshire Carnegie, Hartpury will travel to Nottingham this Friday looking to get back into winning ways.
Jacob Perry slotted a late penalty to level the game against last season’s pay-off finalists – adding to tries from Harry Randall, Luke Stratford (2, pictured) and Mat Gilbert – but relief was mingled with deflation at the final whistle, as Hartpury had seen a 15-point interval lead reeled in and then over-taken by a resolute Carnegie team.
“There was certainly disappointment, when you consider the lead we had built and the way that we had been playing in the first half,” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes. “People have said to me that we’d have taken three points before the game, but I don’t think that’s true. We’re looking to win every time we go out on the pitch this year and not just to target specific games.”
Hartpury have led at half time in all of their games so far this season, but have only one win to show for it so far, away at Rotherham in Week 3. In a season in which every point will be important, is this something that the club needs to look at?
“I don’t think that there is a specific problem,” said Barnes. “At this level we are finding out that teams are good enough to change the way they play. Certainly, in at least two or three of our matches so far, teams have changed their tactics in the second half and got back into the game on merit, rather than it necessarily being something that we are doing wrong.
We felt that the bench did not have a big enough impact against Carnegie, but then they had done a good job the week before, at Rotherham, when they helped us to pull away.”
Friday’s opponents, Nottingham, have had – like Hartpury – a mixed start to the season, with two wins and two defeats from their fixtures so far. The Green & Whites lost their own home fixture with Yorkshire Carnegie as well as going down last weekend, on the road at highly-fancied Doncaster.
Those defeats are offset by a big opening day win at Rotherham and a much narrower affair at London Scottish. Nottingham, two points ahead of Hartpury in the current table, have played three of their four fixtures away from home.
“Nottingham are a really-well coached side,” Barnes told us. “Ian Costello, with his Munster background, has brought a very good coaching ethos up there and they are playing some good rugby.
If you look at their games they score some good tries and they work well defensively – a strong all-round Championship side.
We’re going to find it pretty tough going there on a Friday night, but that’s what this league is all about.”
Nottingham have been involved in high-scoring encounters in all four of their fixtures and they were not alone in Week 4, when 445 points was the tally across the six Championship matches played. Was this an aspect of Championship rugby, occasionally characterised as being fairly dour in recent seasons, that had surprised Barnes?
“Well, this may have been the first really dry weekend, meaning that teams could go out and score tries,” he said. “Teams are playing some really good attacking rugby. I think that ourselves, along with Ealing and Doncaster, are the only sides not to have given up a four-try bonus point.
That’s a good sign for us as it shows that, both defensively and at the set-piece, we are stacking up well against the more experienced Championship sides.
Now we’ve got to work on getting our attack going. We know we’re unlikely to score tries with the freedom that we did last season, but we have to go into each game with a proper attack plan and we’ll do that again on Friday.”
This weekend’s game, which will be played at Nottingham Rugby’s Lady Bay ground, will kick off at 7.45pm.