Despite the fact that there are still four National One league fixtures remaining, in many ways Saturday will be the first occasion when the magnitude of Hartpury’s achievements this season are properly recognised.
In front of what is expected to be a good crowd, including ex-players and coaches gathered for this season’s inaugural Alumni Rugby Reunion, Hartpury will be presented, officially, with the league trophies and medals following the game with Loughborough Students, irrespective of the outcome on the day.
The Loughborough match will come less than 48 hours after the College’s latest appearance in a BUCS (universities) final at Twickenham and, again regardless of the outcome in that game, there will be at least one student trophy on display with Hartpury already having won the league phase of this season’s BUCS Super Rugby competition.
Amidst the celebrations, of course, there is still a game to play and Loughborough come to Gloucestershire in a solid mid-table position, having flirted with relegation in the previous campaign.
The Students have been involved in a number of exciting and high-scoring fixtures this season, including a 35-32 win at home to Blackheath last time out, although their return of three wins from 10 games in 2017 is less than they might have hoped for after a promising autumn.
“They’ve had a decent season although they’ve probably tailed off a bit in the last few weeks in the league, as well as getting knocked out of the BUCS competition” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“Having said that, they are still scoring plenty of points and, like everybody else, they will come here excited by the prospect of ending our unbeaten record.”
“They will have one or two players out, who are performing for England Students on Sunday, so their selection will be interesting, but at the end of the day we know that each of the last four teams that we play will want to be the ones to beat us.”
Certainly, there was no lack of motivation on the part of last week’s opponents, Darlington Mowden Park where, despite the 34-26 win, Barnes was not entirely happy with his team’s performance.
“It was a bit disappointing. We had to make more changes than we were expecting, due to injuries and unavailability – in fact there were various issues that didn’t really go right for us the whole weekend.”
“DMP were clearly well up for it, so to get the win the way we did, which was something different to the way we have been playing, was pleasing. But, overall, it was one of our poorer performances.”
In a physical game, more than one Hartpury player picked up knocks, although none appeared to be more serious than that suffered by fullback Mike Wilcox, whose season now appears to be over after he sustained a knee injury in the build up to the first DMP try.
The better news is that that some of the players absent from last week’s outing, including powerful centre Steve Leonard, should be fit for the Loughborough clash, although no final selection will be made until after the Twickenham final.
The reverse fixture back in November saw Loughborough take the early initiative before Hartpury were typically ruthless in scoring seven tries in a 47-25 win (including one from Jake Polledri, pictured). You can read the match report of that game here: http://hartpuryrfc.co.uk/rfc-news/loughborough-students-25-hartpury-rfc-47/