It’s not even Christmas, yet the structure of the 2019-20 season means that we look forward to our third meeting of the current campaign with Doncaster Knights this weekend.
The occasion is the final pool game of the Championship Cup. Following last Saturday’s defeat at Jersey, Hartpury can no longer progress in the competition, however they will be keen to go into the following week’s league clash, at the Cornish Pirates, with a win under their belts.
If our maths are correct, The Knights currently occupy the eighth, and final, play-off position but will know that a defeat on Saturday leaves them vulnerable to being overhauled by Ampthill, who are at home to the out of form Bedford Blues this weekend.
For Hartpury, the game is important as it provides an opportunity for returning players – rested over the past three weeks – to get some game time ahead on next weekend’s league visit to the Cornish Pirates.
It is also important to maintain momentum, with performances having been encouraging despite the last two cup results, including that 33-20 loss to Jersey.
“Considering we sent a relatively young and inexperienced squad to Jersey, we were quite pleased that we managed to be competitive for a large part of the game,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.
“Obviously the game got away from us in the end, but we stuck at it and played some decent rugby at times. It was good for some of those boys to get 50-60 minutes of game-time under their belts.”
Hartpury had kept it close for the first hour, with a half-time score of 14-13 becoming 21-20 with ten second half minutes played. Two tries at the beginning of the final quarter eventually put Jersey in the driving seat.
Hartpury’s squads for both recent Cup games have contained a number of dual-registered players, but it will back to the ‘core’ for the Knights fixture.
“You could look at this and say that it’s a nothing game for us,” said Cornwell, “but the players should be thinking that we can go out and get a result against Doncaster.”
“We felt that we should have done better against them in the league fixture here and their results have been a bit up and down, recently.”
“But, for us, it’s mainly about getting ourselves ready for the Pirates the following week. We’ve got a few players who have had two or three weeks rest and now it’s time to get them back playing again, whether that be starting or from the bench.”
“Beyond that, we’ve got one or two coming back from injury at a good time for us. Iain Grieve (pictured, above) is a good example – he had an issue with his knee and hasn’t played at all this season, but he’s through that now and he should be ready to play some part this weekend.”
In addition to the former Bristol skipper, Hartpury are hoping that Will Tanner should also be available – his partner is due to give birth imminently – and there is a big bonus in the return of giant lock forward Rob Fuller (pictured, right), who has not played since picking up a bad knee injury in October 2018.
There is also some likelihood that at least a couple of undergraduates will feature, provided that they come through the university’s tough mid-week BUCS Super Rugby fixture with Exeter. Hartpury’s team will be announced on Friday.
The Knights match will kick off at the slightly earlier time of 2pm and will be followed, at 4pm, by the Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s fixture against Loughborough Lightning. With the women’s teams sitting respectively at 3rd and 4th in the Tyrells Premier 15s, this should be a great double-header.
Both games can be watched on a single ticket, at a special price of £10.