Hartpury will go into Saturday’s fixture with Rotherham Titans knowing that victory would go a long way to ensuring their Championship survival.
Bottom-placed Rotherham have yet to register a win this season and their Clifton Lane ground was the site of Hartpury’s first league victory of the campaign, with a bonus point, back in September.
Titans currently sit 19 points behind Hartpury and a home win at the Gillman’s Ground would leave them needing to win at least five of their remaining nine Championship fixtures to have any hope of survival – an unlikely scenario given their form so far this season.
Hartpury are coming off the back of a gutsy performance at Jersey last time out, when an 18-14 defeat yielded a bonus point from a game that could have ultimately gone either way. Resolute defence and a solid set-piece were the major positives, although the frustrating inability to create try-scoring opportunities continued.
“We were pleased with our performance against Jersey, especially after such a long day of travel and the trip to Ulster the previous weekend,” said Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“We knew they would be direct and look to target our set piece, but we matched them for most of the game.
Our defence, as it’s been most of the season, was outstanding.
We stayed in the game and got within a score with a few minutes left. We couldn’t find that winning try but taking a point was a reward for the players’ hard work.”
There is good news around, ahead of the Titans game, in that experienced prop forward, Rupert Harden (pictured), and first-choice hooker, Will Tanner, should both be back in contention for a start this weekend.
Beyond that, with only one Championship fixture scheduled in January (away to Yorkshire at the end of the month), Hartpury will be hoping that longer-term absentees such as Harry Randall, Steve Leonard and Alex Craig will be back in the selection picture come February and able to play some part in the remaining Championship programme.
However, back to the near term, nothing will be taken for granted on Saturday. Rotherham are fighting for their lives and were leading for large parts of their South Yorkshire derby with Doncaster Knights in the last round of fixtures.
That performance was not enough to save the job of Titans Head Coach, Andy Key, who was dismissed after the match.
“Rotherham will be a test in the sense this is a huge game for them,” said Barnes.
“A win for us would make it hard for them to claw back the points to stay up.
Obviously we need to be wary of the fact that they parted company with their Director of Rugby last week, which usually galvanises a team for a week or two.”
Saturday’s game kicks off at the usual time of 2.30pm.