There is a whiff of optimism around the training ground at Hartpury RFC as the club approaches the ‘business end’ of what has been a long, hard season.
There are a few reasons for this, although the primary cause is the feel-good factor that comes from the win, last time out, against fellow-strugglers, Richmond.
Throw in some key assets returning from injury – and the better availability of dual-registered players, as local Premiership partners seek game-time for their players – and things have rarely looked better for the Red & Blacks since the campaign began.
The reality, of course, remains pretty stark. Despite the Richmond victory, Hartpury still occupy bottom spot in the Championship table, although the clubs are now level on points. It appears to be a straight shoot-out between the two over the remaining seven games of the season, with every point now vital in the quest for survival.
“It felt a little bit unusual after the Richmond game,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.
“Coming off the field with a good win and the bonus point in the bag is something that we’ve been missing for most of this season.”
“There were some very good performances, both from our players and from the lads that we were able to bring in (including Bristol centre, Charlie Powell, pictured). I think that those new faces were able to bring out the best in some of the guys who have been working so hard for us all season.”
“Just look at the way our wingers, Jake Henry and Ben Foley, performed. They were both outstanding, with the big difference being that they were getting the ball and getting some ‘go forward’. Harry Cochrane, at scrum half, was another who deserved all the plaudits that he got after the game.”
“We now just have to approach every match as it comes and try to get our best available 22 players involved each week. A lot of the distractions, like the Premiership Cup and the A League – which have deprived us of our dual-registered players – are almost done and dusted, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep this strong squad together. Ultimately, of course, that’s not something that we can directly control.”
“We’ve got a tough run-in, but it’s seven games that we will be going into looking for wins. There are some very difficult fixtures, as always, but we’ll just take each one as they come. With the quality that we can now put on the pitch, we owe it to ourselves, and our supporters, to go out and give it a go. ”
Hartpury could hardly ask for a tougher start, to those seven, than Saturday’s trip to second-placed Ealing Trailfinders.
“They’ve had the better of us every time we’ve played them over the past few seasons,” said Cornwell.
“They are a strong, fully-professional club. We’ve done our analysis on them, of course, but the bottom line is that they’ve got talent and ability right across their squad.”
“Having said that, we’ve trained extremely well this week. We’ll hopefully do the same again on Friday and then go there at the weekend and see if we can cause an upset.”
Long-term absentees, Rupert Harden, Rob Langley, Luke Eves and Tom Pashley have all returned to training and are available for selection against the Londoners.
“We had a huge injury problem mid-season, which really hurt us,” Cornwell said. “So did Gloucester, a club that we obviously work closely with, which made it a double-whammy.”
“Suddenly, we’ve got a lot of players on their feet, which makes training a lot easier and selection a lot tougher – it’s a good problem to have!”