Hartpury are back in Greene King IPA Championship action this Friday night when they visit Jersey Reds.
Jersey have been in decent form recently with big home-and-away wins over another Championship side, London Scottish, in the British & Irish Cup preceded by a highly creditable draw at Nottingham in their last league outing.
The Channel Islanders do not have the biggest of squads and therefore their option to ‘stay strong’ through the B&I Cup rounds was not a surprise to Hartpury Head coach, Mark Cornwell.
“We’ve watched their last few games through both the league and the B&I and, yes, they’ve changed one or two but without the option to make a lot of switches they’ve basically kept things going,” he said.
“You do run the risk of injury doing that but, at the same time, it does help to maintain consistency. They put 45 points on London Scottish last week, away from home, following up an equally good result the week before.
They are an extremely physical side, very direct in everything that they do. They have got a strong set-piece and are one of the bigger sides that we come up against in the Championship.
There will be no frilly stuff. They just want to come over the top of you and they are at home. Jersey is not an easy place to go at the best of times and they will have a big crowd on Friday night for their last game before Christmas.
Everything is stacked against us. Apart from the likes of Bristol and Ealing, most teams will go to Jersey feeling that they are the underdogs.”
Jersey have been far from perfect at home this season as Doncaster Knights, Bedford, Bristol and Yorkshire Carnegie have picked up results at St. Peter, but those were all narrow defeats against traditionally strong sides and the Reds will certainly be targeting a victory this weekend.
“We know it’s going to be a tough battle,” said Cornwell “but we’ve got to be able to cope with their physicality and directness and, as far as we are able, we’ve picked a team to be able to do that.”
We gave a few of the boys a bit of a rest last week, so we‘ve got the likes of Mike Wilcox and Luke Eves to return in the back division. Up front, we’ve got Dan Murphy to come back at prop, as well as guys like Rhys Oakley, BJ Edwards and Mat Gilbert, none of whom played last week.”
Although no team announcement is due until tomorrow, it seems certain that former Jersey hooker, Luke Stratford (pictured), will return to play against his old club.
“I’ve been very happy with the way that Luke has been playing throughout the BUCS Super Rugby campaign,” Cornwell said.
“He puts his body on the line and gives 100% every time he goes out, so this is a great opportunity for him to go back home and play in front of people that he knows. I’m sure that both he and Harry Cochrane (another Jersey export) will go out and give everything that they’ve got for the shirt on Friday.
They will have to keep their emotions under control and not get carried away by the occasion.”
This is the first ‘return’ league fixture of the season, Jersey having taken the match at the Gillman’s Ground by 20-19, despite Hartpury having a half-time lead by courtesy of scores from Nick Carpenter and Mat Gilbert.
Whatever side is named for Friday, it is certain to be quite different from that which took the field in Ballymena last weekend, when a young and predominantly student selection lined up against Ulster A, in a 27-19 B&I Cup defeat.
“Considering the players that we’d rested, I thought that the boys did reasonably well,” said Cornwell.
“There was a lot of energy and a number of good individual performances. Particularly in the second half, we controlled most of the possession and just couldn’t find a way to get over the line – maybe the result could have been different with a little bit more experience in the team.
For us, the real benefit was to be able to judge that some of these lads are able to make the step up from student rugby and, in that respect, I was fairly pleased.”
Friday’s game will be played at the Stade Santander International, St. Peter, Jersey and will kick off at 7.45pm.