The British & Irish Cup competition returns to Hartpury this weekend with the visit of Ulster ‘A’ to the Gillman’s Ground.
Hartpury are winless after two rounds of the cup so far and, with resources stretched after an arduous period in the Greene King IPA Championship as well as tough schedules for the University and College teams, it will interesting to see what sort of squad is named later today.
The visitors, meanwhile, have one Cup win to their name, having narrowly beaten the Scarlets Premiership Selection at home, before going down to the Cornish Pirates at the Mennaye Field.
Hartpury were close to getting a result at Parc-Y-Scarlets in their last B&I outing, so the indications are that supporters could be in for another closely fought affair this weekend.
“Ulster will no doubt be a tough nut to crack,” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes, “but we would very much like to get a home win under our belts before we go into two very important Championship fixtures later in the month.”
Those games, away to Jersey on the 22nd December and then at home to Rotherham Titans the following weekend, will have a big bearing on how the remainder of the season pans out for Barnes’ men.
A handful of points might be enough to settle any apprehensions that the club might have regarding being sucked into a relegation scrap, whereas defeat, particularly at home to bottom club Titans, would certainly make for an uncomfortable few weeks ahead.
With such ‘bread and butter’ issues at stake, Barnes might be forgiven for taking the view that, in the home-and-away clashes with Ulster over the next two weekends, performances might be a bit more important than results.
“The British & Irish Cup will give us the chance to have a look at a few fresh faces over the next fortnight,” he said. “There are no more AASE or BUCS Super Rugby matches the next few weeks, so it could be a chance to blood some young talent.”
Student rugby is certainly going well at Hartpury right now. The Under-18 squad won their eighth national AASE championship in nine seasons this week, while the university side, after a slow start to the season, made it back-to-back wins by beating Loughborough University at home on Wednesday night.
There is also some encouraging news on the injury front, where it is understood that props Rupert Harden (pictured) and Mike Daniels – both players with Premiership pedigree – will be fit to return to the squad at some point during December. It has also been revealed that the facial injury to flanker Rob Langley – although still serious enough to warrant a lengthy lay-off – does not require surgery, meaning that he could be back in training by January. Hooker Will Tanner did pick up a knock last weekend, but it is hoped that it will not lead to a long absence.
Hartpury’s recent league form, a run of four defeats culminating in a 7-31 home defeat to second-placed Ealing, is a cause for concern, but Barnes has seen enough in recent weeks to remain optimistic.
“We were very much in the game and level on the scoreboard for virtually all of the first half against Trailfinders,” he said.
“Then an individual error means that we go into half-time behind and, after the break, a poor kick and a simple missed tackle lets them in again. Suddenly we are 21-7 down and that’s ‘game over’ against a side of Ealing’s quality.
I’m confident that if we can eliminate those individual mistakes we will start to win more games at this level on a consistent basis.”
Saturday’s match versus Ulster ‘A’ kicks off at 2.30pm.