It was January last year when Luke Eves made a winning start in the red and black of Hartpury, coincidentally in a visit to this Saturday’s opponents, Fylde RFC (pictured).
Eves had been released by Northampton at the end of a six-month contract – signed as cover for Luther Burrell during RWC 2015, a tournament for which the Saints’ man was, ultimately, overlooked – having seen little action.
The ex-Bristol and Falcons centre was keen to keen to get some game-time under his belt and a schoolboy coach – former Hartpury Director of Rugby, Alan Martinovic – had the perfect solution.
A year on, and Eves has become the fulcrum around which so much of Hartpury’s impressive attacking and defensive capabilities are based. Absolutely not a ‘big-time Charlie’, Eves has missed just one game in Hartpury’s last 32 league fixtures, scoring 14 tries in the process and assisting in many others.
“Luke’s been a great addition to the squad,” said Hartpury chief John Barnes. “He’s been happy to stay with us in the absence of offers from Premiership clubs and, alongside playing, he’s been able to coach our Under 18s, assisting Wayne Thompson and Jon Goodridge.”
“He’s added some really valuable experience to the squad and he’s a very durable player. He’ll play in every game and the other players really look up to him. He’s now our vice-captain and has led the side a couple of times this season.”
Organisation in defence has been a key Hartpury strength in the past few years, but Barnes felt that this was one aspect of their game that needed a little more focus after last weekend’s 66-24 victory over Esher.
“It was a good win against a side who have historically made things difficult for us. We certainly performed well in scoring ten tries but we were a little bit disappointed with our defence. They scored four tries and maybe could have had more. That hasn’t happened to us here for quite a while.”
“Certainly, something that we have been looking at this week, going into the Fylde game, is our defensive work-rate and set-up. Other than that, it was our first game back after a break and Esher are a better side than their league position would suggest.”
Saturday’s opponents, Fylde, are known to play a slightly different brand of rugby from many other clubs in National One. How will that affect preparations for the match?
“Not a great deal. We will do the same analysis on them as we would do for any opponent.”
“Every team has different attributes and we certainly know the way that Fylde will want to play. They challenge you with the ball in hand and try and score tries against you from anywhere on the pitch. Over the years they’ve been one of the best attacking teams in the league.”
“They are not having the best of seasons by their own standards, but on their day they can still tear anyone apart.”
Fylde currently sit 12th in the table, seven points clear of the relegation places. Poor away form has been their major shortcoming, having been defeated on each occasion that they have played away from the Woodlands.
Their six wins at home have included the notable scalps of Plymouth Albion and Ampthill, whilst only Rosslyn Park, Blackheath and Moseley, the latter two both narrowly, have left with the spoils.
With no new injuries coming out of the Esher match, Hartpury expect to be able to name a similar line-up with, as has become usual, one or two rotational changes.
Among the chasers, Plymouth and Ampthill both slipped up last week in difficult away matches, although would expect to return to winning ways at home to Esher and Loughborough respectively. Birmingham Moseley, in second, should have too much for Blaydon, even at Crow Trees, while Blackheath, now third, face a tough trip to improved Coventry.
Hartpury’s previous two visits to the Lancashire coast have both produced wins. In 2014-15, the team produced one of their best performances of the campaign to leave with a 36-8 victory, although last year’s fixture was a much tighter affair, with only a late Lloyd Evans penalty to separate the sides.
However, that man Luke Eves – on debut – did pick up both of Hartpury’s tries in the match. As the team seek to maintain their advantage at the top of National One, another brace this weekend would be a great way to celebrate the anniversary!