After a weekend off, Hartpury return to the Alpas Arena on Friday night when they welcome Ampthill, who should certainly be enjoying their first season in tier 2 of professional rugby.
With 13 games completed they currently sit in a very commendable 5th place in the Championship table and are in good form, having won three of their last four.
The only defeat in that group of games was at the home of league leaders, Newcastle Falcons, with wins at the expense of London Scottish, Coventry and – most recently – at beleaguered Yorkshire Carnegie.
The Bedfordshire side have very much mirrored the progress of Hartpury in recent seasons, with the two clubs having crossed swords several times in the National Leagues. Hartpury, to date, have been pretty dominant against the Amps at home, with the last win coming in the unbeaten 2016-17 promotion campaign.
On that day a team including the likes of Mat Protheroe, Harry Randall, Jake Polledri and Jonas Mikalcius produced a high-octane opening and eventually went on to record a 49-14 victory against potential promotion rivals.
It was to take Ampthill another two seasons to make it to the Championship, but they have settled superbly at this level and their seven wins, so far, include a 19-13 November home victory over the Red & Blacks, in a game which could have easily gone the other way but for some Hartpury indiscipline and some questionable refereeing.
Looking ahead to Friday, Hartpury’s Director of Rugby, John Barnes, said “Ampthill will definitely be a big challenge.”
“They have had an excellent debut season in the Championship. With a good mix of dual-registered players and experienced professionals they have managed the step up to the Championship very well.”
“A physical battle – especially in the likely wet conditions – is what we are expecting.”
Hartpury are not enjoying the same run of form as Ampthill – with one win in the last four – but, with the exception of the Ealing trip, the recent performances have been encouraging.
The last outing saw Hartpury produce an excellent start at Nottingham featuring early tries from George Simpson (pictured, courtesy of LNC Images) and Sam Goatley (the first of his brace), before eventually needing to claw back two bonus points in the dying minutes of the game.
“The Nottingham match was a great advert for Championship rugby,” said Barnes.
“Both teams played with attacking intent which was reflected in the 33-26 score line. For the first 20 minutes, we played some of the best rugby we have produced since promotion to the Championship and were deservedly 14-0 ahead.”
“A few exit errors led to Nottingham getting back into the game at the end of the first half which was disappointing. They then managed to get the better of us in the drive and pulled out into the lead.”
“However, our bench made the required impact and we chased the two bonus points, which we gained with a minute to go. There were some very pleasing areas of the game, but still things to work on for Friday.”
Hartpury will name their squad for Friday’s match at noon on Thursday.