There are no easy games in the Championship.
Having faced two strong sides from the North, in Yorkshire Carnegie and Doncaster Knights, Hartpury now head into a fixture against the only club to have collected maximum points this season, the Cornish Pirates.
Current form aside, Pirates clearly pose a big enough challenge to Hartpury anyway, having won all four of the encounters between the clubs last season – often quite emphatically.
However, there are already signs that this current Hartpury team is something of a different animal to those that the Pirates will have faced during the last campaign.
Last weekend at Doncaster started well, before becoming the proverbial ‘game of two halves’, according to Hartpury backs coach and former Gloucester Rugby full-back, Jonny Goodridge.
“The first half against Doncaster was really pleasing from our point of view,” he said. “We managed the game well, our defence was excellent and as a result I don’t think we were really threatened that much.”
“Our discipline was strong and we scored two good tries, both from close range.”
“Early in the second half, though, there were a series of compounded errors. Teams can often live with single, isolated errors, but when you are making four or five in quick succession, you make life very difficult for yourselves.”
“It all ended up in a yellow card and then a penalty try, so the momentum shift was huge.”
“After Doncaster took the lead, it was hard to chase the game, given the wet conditions, which was exactly what we had been talking about avoiding at half time!”
That ‘chasing’ allowed Doncaster to benefit from a late interception, the try finished by another former Gloucester man, Steve McColl, leaving Hartpury to concentrate on the positives from their strong first half and the previous week’s good opener against Carnegie.
“I thought that the back three, in the last two games, have worked really well together,” said Goodridge. “Most teams in the Championship have got a good kicking game and it was an element of the ‘step-up’ last season that took us a while to get used to.”
“We were very solid under the high ball on Saturday, with Ben Foley fielding most of those. It is an area that we look at frequently – because of the quality that the other sides have – and this week, against Pirates, is a very good example of why we do that.”
“They have an exceptional box-kicker at scrum-half, in Alex Day. He gets it ‘on the money’ every time and they follow that up with a really well-organised chase. They’ve got other left- and right-footed options across their back-line, which makes their kicking game very dangerous.”
Goodridge is not surprised by the strong start that Pirates have made to the new campaign,
“I believe that they had bonus point wins in their final six games of last season,” he said, “so that’s now eight on the bounce.”
“They are a very well-organised and well-coached outfit. Also, they are a hugely experienced Championship side, with guys who have played a lot of rugby at this level and know the league inside-out.”
“We’re expecting a massive challenge this weekend.”
“Having said that, I don’t believe that our results against them last season will have any bearing on Saturday. We feel that we are in a much better place than we were last season – if anything, even stronger defensively and looking much more solid in attack.”
“We’re confident that we can reverse the outcome from last weekend and build on that first-half performance going into Saturday’s game.”
The match versus Cornish Pirates kicks off, at the Gillman’s Ground, at 2.30pm, Saturday 15th September.