Big test ahead as resurgent Coventry are the visitors

Hartpury RFC and this week’s opponents, Coventry, have never failed to produce a close and compelling contest in their five meetings to date and Saturday’s fixture in National One is shaping up to be more of the same.

Hartpury continued their amazing run of wins by beating Fylde, in Lancashire, 57-31 in the last round, although there were signs that they weren’t necessarily at their best.  Meanwhile, Coventry were thumping Blackheath, 39-3, to be undefeated in five – a run that includes a draw at Darlington Mowden Park.

“We were a little bit disappointed after the Fylde game, particularly with our defending”, said Director of Rugby, John Barnes.  “It was something we had worked on during the week, but we didn’t really front up in the way we wanted to.”

“We’ve had another good look at it, because we realise that we can’t defend like that, week in, week out.  We’ll certainly need to be better against Coventry.”

“It’s definitely not a question of complacency and up until the Christmas break our defence was going very well”.

“Teams are beginning to play a lot of rugby against us.  Both Esher and Fylde really came out and played – Fylde had a lot more possession and territory than us, but we were just a lot more clinical with what we had.”

“If we see the same pattern in much closer games, then we are going to struggle to win them, so the focus this week is on making sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Coventry will be a tough game.  Alongside Plymouth, they’ve been our hardest away game this season and if things had gone slightly differently up there they could easily have beaten us.  They are in decent form and they seem to be picking up away from home.”

“They will come here expecting to win, which isn’t always the case when sides visit us.”

“It will be a big challenge, but one we are certainly up for, to keep our unbeaten run going.”

Flanker Mat Gilbert has returned to training and could be in contention to start, although Hartpury will not be taking any unnecessary risks with him. “We’ll assess him before the game, but the rest of the season is more important than just one match,” said Barnes.

The remainder of the squad is in good shape and, although no team announcement will be made until nearer the time, it seems certain that last week’s four-try star, Gloucester scrum half Ben Vellacott (pictured, versus Coventry in 2015) will be in the side.  There may also be an opportunity for dynamic forward, Joe Batley.

Hartpury won the reverse fixture back in October – two tries from young half-back Harry Randall (pictured, below) being instrumental – and remain the only visiting side to have triumphed at the Butts Arena this season.  Coventry’s home form has been somewhat in contrast to their travels, with wins at lowly Macclesfield and Ionians being their only successes on the road so far.

Head to head, Coventry snatched a last-gasp win on their first ever visit to the Gillman’s Ground in 2014, but since then all the results have gone the way of the Red & Blacks, albeit narrowly in every instance.

In other games affecting the leading pack, one of either Birmingham Moseley or Ampthill will suffer a setback when the two meet in the Midlands, while Plymouth will take nothing for granted as they visit Old Albanian.  Blackheath would expect to recover some of the ground lost in last weekend’s mauling, when they welcome Ionians to southeast London.

Saturday’s match kicks off at 2.30pm.

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