Hartpury University RFC welcome the Sky Sports cameras to the Alpas Arena on Saturday, when Coventry Rugby are the on-field visitors for Round 10 of the 2019-20 Green King IPA Championship.
It will be Hartpury’s first televised fixture for almost a year, the last occasion being the comprehensive win over Richmond, last season, which kick-started the club’s, ultimately, successful efforts to avoid a return to the National League.
Hopes are high for an entertaining game, as Hartpury face up to a team who are currently 10 points and four places ahead of them in the league table.
The Midlands club have certainly been involved in some exciting tussles recently, not least the 36-30 home victory over London Scottish last weekend – a last minute try over-turning a lead which the Exiles had grabbed back just moments earlier.
There was also a last-gasp result – of the losing kind – when Coventry slipped to a late defeat in their previous match at Ampthill, an outcome made quite surprising in light of the ease with which Coventry had dispatched the new-boys in their two earlier Championship Cup meetings.
Overall, there have been five wins and three defeats for the city club so far, plus a very creditable draw at the home of the free-scoring Ealing Trailfinders.
Honours were even between Hartpury and Coventry last season. The Red & blacks earned a hard-working, if unspectacular, 23-17 victory in the rain at home, before – ironically – playing better in defeat at the Butts Arena, losing by the similar score-line of 24-17.
Indeed, apart from a 50-19 blow-out during Hartpury’s imperious, unbeaten and still unique run to promotion from National 1, games between the two clubs have been notably close, the teams frequently ending less than a score apart.
Despite the fine margins, the eight meetings since Hartpury first arrived in National 1, six years ago, currently stand 6-2 in favour of the Red & Blacks, a trend that they will be hoping to maintain on Saturday.
If that is to happen, Hartpury will need to end a run of defeats that now stretches to three matches, after narrow losses to both Cornish Pirates and Jersey were followed by a 28-23 reversal at Bedford Blues last weekend (pictured, thanks to LNC Images).
“After a poor start to the game, we got back in to it and became competitive,” said Head Coach Mark Cornwell, of the Blues match. “The problem was that we gifted them a start and were playing catch-up rugby, up the slope.”
“We didn’t compete well in the air and if you keep making mistakes at Championship level you are going to get punished.”
“Apart from that, it was great to play on a dry pitch with a dry ball. The conditions suited both sides, who appreciated the chance to run, rather than wade in mud, and I think that the crowd got some decent entertainment.”
“We know that Coventry will bring a big, physical side this weekend. They’ve gone pretty well so far this season, although they were run very close by London Scottish last weekend and slipped up at Ampthill. If we play to our potential there’s no reason why we can’t get a result.”
Hartpury will name their side on Friday and are likely to stick with the core player group that has, overall, gone well in recent weeks, despite the narrow losses.
The game kicks off at the slightly earlier than usual time of 2pm.