Having played the Cornish Pirates no fewer than eight times during our first two seasons in the Championship, it feels a little strange that we have had to wait until Christmas, in 2019-20, to renew the friendship.
However, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing on Sunday, as Hartpury’s final game of the year takes us to the Mennaye, Penzance, in a return to league action after three weeks of cup rugby.
Hartpury will travel in good spirits, having finally won a Championship Cup match, at the sixth time of asking this season. Admittedly, the opening three rounds were very much akin to pre-season for the Red & Blacks, but it is still good to have got that first win in the tournament.
Travelling to Cornwall, however, represents another sort of historical barrier to Hartpury, who have yet to get a win against the Pirates in those eight attempts, the closest result being a somewhat cruel 29-36 home defeat, again in the cup, just over a year ago.
The corresponding league fixture last season produced a 42-24 loss from a game in which Hartpury had been competitive up until the final quarter, before the Pirates powered away in the closing stages. Sound familiar?
“It seems that the Pirates have become our Championship bogey side,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.
“Eight games without a win against them is not a very good record,” he said.
“They are a well-established Championship club and they know exactly how to play at this level. Yes, they’ll be a big, physical team, but they’ve also got some very talented players.”
“As we know, they are hard enough to beat on your own patch, never mind having to go down to Penzance.”
“We’ll need to meet the physical challenge. We know that they will be very direct and come at us at the set piece – it’s what they are well-known for.”
“We know the job in hand. We’ve got to focus on playing our game well. We can also take confidence from the performance last weekend.”
Cornwell is referring to the 37-24 Cup victory over the Doncaster Knights at the Alpas Arena last Saturday, bringing Hartpury’s ‘points for’ aggregate in the last three home fixtures to 126 – a bit like the old days in the National Leagues!
“Lots of positives came out of that performance,” said Cornwell.
“Not just the result, but the way we played and the way that some of players were able to come back into the side after injury.”
“We were good with the wind and built a decent lead, largely through kicking our points. We got a bit of break when the breeze dropped out in the second half, but they were always having to chase the game.”
“It was a very decent effort against a side that we’d come up short against a few weeks ago. We scored some good tries and put some good stuff together – just what we needed going into Sunday’s fixture.”
One interesting statistic from the Doncaster match was that there was only one dual-registered player on display in Red & Black.
That man was Joe Batley, who played just 40 minutes against the Knights as he was required by his new club, Leicester Tigers (who he has joined on loan from Bristol), for a Premiership Shield match on Monday night.
Batley, a former Hartpury student who skippered the AASE team to the national title in 2014, has been a consistently strong performer for the Red & Blacks this season
“Joe has been fantastic for us,” said Cornwell. “He’s a Hartpury lad through and through and he has a lot of respect for the place. He knows that Hartpury gave him a great spring-board into his rugby career and he’s been only too happy to give back, particularly this season.”
“He’ll be a big loss to us, of course, but that’s the nature of the business that we are in here at Hartpury and Joe moving to Leicester just provides a chance for another player to come in and show us what they can do.”
“Rob Fuller came back in on Saturday after more than a year out with a really bad injury. Not surprisingly, he was a little off the pace in a couple of areas but there were a number of positive aspects to his performance and, of course, he’s a big man.”
“There’s no reason why he can’t now move on, continue to improve and play at this level week in, week out. All he needs now is a string of games where he gets his fitness and his confidence back.”
Following the trip to Cornwall, Hartpury’s players will get a good break with the next fixture not scheduled until Saturday, January 11th, when Jersey – another cup pool opponent – make their second visit of the season to the Alpas Arena.
Sunday’s game in Penzance will kick off at 2.30pm. Hartpury will announce their squad tomorrow.
Image Courtesy of Brian Tempest