Hartpury RFC go into their first fully competitive pre-season fixture, with Gallagher Premiership outfit Worcester Warriors, at Sixways this Saturday (3pm).
The game will be useful indicator of how the squad is shaping up, ahead of their second Greene King IPA Championship season, and is a repeat of the fixture from last year, in which Hartpury were highly competitive for the first 60 minutes before a raft of changes saw Warriors get away in the final quarter.
“We’re approaching Saturday as a ‘proper’ game,” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes. “Obviously, it’s going to be tough. We’ve got a few players injured and one or two not available for other reasons, so it will be a good learning curve for some of our guys.
The key thing from last year was that our starting fifteen were able to compete really well for a large part of the game and that gave us good confidence going into our early Championship fixtures. Hopefully it will be the same this time around, although I’m sure that Worcester will be ready and prepared, as you’d expect a Premiership team to be.”
Hartpury are getting used to mixing it with elite-level sides, having trained a few times with Gloucester Rugby already in this pre-season and having had a run-out with Bristol Bears, at Clifton RFC, last weekend.
“That was a really good session,” said Barnes, who, like a number of the Hartpury coaching staff, has strong links to the Ashton Gate club.
“We had some scenario-based 20-minute conditioned sessions, followed by a final 20 minutes of full-on rugby. We certainly took a lot out of it – Bristol are a Premiership outfit again this year, with some real stars in their squad. They looked really sharp, so it was great for us to be able to go down there and work with them.
It’s been excellent to have the chance to work with both Gloucester and Bristol in pre-season and that experience will take us nicely into this weekend with Worcester.
We’ve had a long preparation this year – we have been in for nearly 10 weeks now – a lot of it in extremely warm weather. It has been tough on the lads, but they have worked extremely hard, both on and off the field, and it will be good to get into something more competitive over the next couple of weeks before we play Yorkshire.
The Championship will be extremely tight this year. London Irish have managed to retain a very strong squad and Ealing, despite big changes in both players and coaching staff, are another side that we all expect to be challenging.
I think that the rest of us are going to be hard to separate, with anybody being able to pick up wins with a good performance on the day.
Like everybody, we will be looking to get a fast start and a few wins under our belt before we move into the Championship Cup window. We need to be as well-prepared as we can be for that opening nine-game stretch.
We want to build on we did last year. Our set-piece and our defence were both strong – we need to retain those strengths and build in a more effective attacking element, which will see us pick up more points.”
Hartpury will have a further pre-season fixture at local side Cinderford on Thursday, 23rd August (Dockham Road, 7pm) before the Championship opener with Yorkshire Carnegie, at the Gillman’s Ground, on Friday 31st (7.45pm).