Saturday sees Hartpury’s final outing in this season’s Championship Cup and it is unlikely to be competition that we will miss greatly.
Not only has it brought five defeats from five matches so far – which is not the fault of the competition – but the format means that every weekend currently feels a little bit like ‘Groundhog Day’, as we put a team out to play any one of London Irish, Bedford Blues or Cornish Pirates.
With all three of those clubs also having either recently featured, or being about to feature, in our ‘regular’ league fixture list, there is a certain sense of ‘over-familiarity’ developing. After we have played London Irish, on December 28th, for instance, all of our last eight fixtures will have been against those three clubs.
Add to this that we also played Pirates in mid-September and will play them again before the end of January (as well as four times last season) and, well, you get the point…
Also, can we not have three of the league’s top six clubs in our group next year, please?
Anyway, returning to Saturday and everyone at the club has fingers crossed that the paperwork is finalised in time for Akapusi Qera to make his debut in red & black. The player has travelled to France this week to arrange his visa, so Hartpury are now just awaiting clearance from the RFU.
Last Sunday’s heavy reversal at London Irish did come at some further cost in terms of personnel, as both Rob Langley (rib cartilage) and Ben Kelland (concussion) are out of contention for the match with Bedford. This is offset by the better news that experienced back row forward, Iain Grieve, is likely to be able start, as may winger, Jake Henry.
Former Premiership prop, Dan Murphy, who has missed all of the Cup matches so far, is another who could play some part, along with back-rower Tom Pashley.
Bedford will, of course, be a difficult proposition. Despite being beaten home and away by London Irish in the Cup, they did record a win over the Pirates last time out. They will have a chance of overtaking the Cornishmen, if they can get a win at the Gillman’s Ground and Pirates go down at home to the Exiles.
“This is the last of our cup matches and against another very strong side, in Bedford,” said Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“This will be our third meeting with them in the last six weeks, but the first at home,” he said. “Obviously we can’t progress in the Cup, but we’ll be looking for a good performance to give us confidence going back into Championship fixtures, after Christmas.”
Hartpury were not at their best on the most recent visit to Goldington Road, despite a long-range try from Luke Cozens (pictured), but will take some encouragement from the fact that the two prior engagements with the Blues resulted in very evenly contested fixtures.
Hartpury lost to a last minute try, at home, towards the end of the 2017-18 season and then saw history repeat itself in the league match in October, when a late Blues try, and a subsequent missed Hartpury penalty, again saw victory turn into defeat.
Saturday’s game will kick off at the slightly earlier than usual time of 2pm, to fit in with Cup regulations. Hartpury’s final fixture of 2018, at home to London Irish in the Greene King IPA Championship, on Friday 28th December, will be an evening kick off, at 7.45pm.
Tickets for the London Irish fixture can be purchased in advance, here.