With four wins from a possible five, Hartpury RFC are in comfortably their best form since arriving in the Greene King IPA Championship at the beginning of last season.
However, expectations for the weekend ahead will be tempered by the knowledge that obstacles do not get much bigger than a visit to the Madejski Stadium, Reading, home of the champions-in-waiting, London Irish.
Indeed, the Exiles, who have lost only twice this season, have the opportunity to confirm their return to the Premiership in this fixture, with their only rivals – Ealing Trailfinders – facing a tricky trip to Jersey into the bargain.
Hartpury’s only previous visit to the impressive arena, which Irish will leave at the end of next season for a return to their West London roots, ended in a heavy Championship Cup defeat and it is therefore no surprise that Director of Rugby, John Barnes, is realistic about the task his side face.
“London Irish, without question, represent the biggest challenge of the season,” he said.
“They are top of the league for a reason and, clearly, odds-on to regain their Premiership status.”
“We have been playing well over the past few weeks and will go there with plenty of confidence, but we know that we have our work cut out to get anything out of this game.”
Irish are a full 22 points clear of the third-placed placed Championship club, Jersey, and three points further still ahead of Bedford.
It is those two teams who have been the most recent victims of Hartpury’s late-season resurgence, with a nip-and-tuck 28-26 win over the Blues being the most recent result.
“It was yet another nail-biter against Bedford but, fortunately, we came out on top on this occasion,” said Barnes.
“That, in itself, was a refreshing change, as we have lost to them by late scores and narrow margins a few times before.”
“The forwards put in another great shift to earn the four tries from close range. Just as importantly, our defence held firm again for the majority of the game, against a very dangerous side, and we were obviously very pleased to pick up the five points.”
Hartpury have had the luxury of choosing from a strong squad in recent weeks, but – despite no Championship fixture last weekend – both student rugby and commitments elsewhere, such as the Premier Shield, have taken their toll.
“We picked up a few knocks in the Bedford game,” said Barnes. “As well as that, we’ve had players called up by England Students and we’ll need to see how people are holding up after this week’s BUCS Super Rugby final victory at Twickenham.”
Hartpury will be hoping that players such as exciting young centre, Charlie Powell (pictured), will be available and will announce the squad on Friday. The match will be played on Sunday, 14th April, and kicks off at 3pm.