Hartpury RFC look set to face their toughest test for some time on Saturday away to a Loughborough Students team in a rich vein of recent form.
Loughborough have won four of their last five games, only slipping up to high-flying Plymouth, and drew with another form side, Rosslyn Park, prior to that run.
They currently sit seventh in National League One and go into Saturday’s clash on the back of an impressive 32-26 win at Blackheath, albeit having been 32-0 up at one point in that game!
Their form against Hartpury is far from shabby too. Although Hartpury did the double over them last season, they only edged to a 13-8 win at home before claiming a 39-22 result at Loughborough University Stadium. The previous season, Hartpury won the university battle 20-19 at home but lost 30-13 away.
“Loughborough will definitely present a different challenge to what we have faced recently in the league,” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“It’s always interesting adapting to playing on their rubber crumb and they are a team we’ve notoriously struggled against in the past. They will test us in areas we haven’t been tested in so far this season.
“We know they will look to throw the ball about and they have some very talented backs with good pace and footwork. Their fly-half, Josh Sharpe, and full-back, Will Edwards, are particularly outstanding.
“We’re expecting them to come at us with some strong, attacking rugby and our record of not conceding a point in our last two games is likely to come under major threat. We‘ll definitely need to look to maintain the same level of discipline as well as the attacking flair we showed against Darlington.”
League leaders Hartpury have certainly tightened up defensively in recent weeks. After shipping 50 points in victories against Cambridge and Rosslyn Park, their last two outings have brought 32-0 and 74-0 shut-outs against Old Albanians and Darlington Mowden Park respectively.
They will be looking for an incredible 13th successive bonus point win in National League One at Loughborough and to maintain or increase their 13-point lead at the top.
They will need to do so without scrum-half Harry Randall, who is likely to miss out after injuring his ankle against Darlington, while props Wayne Thompson and Tim Brockett are both still sidelined. Second row Joe Dancer (leg) and centre Luke Eves (shoulder) will face injury assessments this week.
There is positive news in that prop and former student Alec Clarey looks set to be made available again by Bristol Rugby and Harlequins could potentially release winger, Hartpury Strength and Conditioning degree student, Jonas Mikalcius.
Barnes added: “We’ve got a few out but what’s been so encouraging this season has been the performance of players coming into the starting XV. The policy of rotating players and giving them more game time has definitely paid off as they are fully up to speed when they step up. It helps that the University Centre team are playing high quality rugby week in, week out, in the new BUCS Super Rugby competition too.”
Closest challengers Birmingham Moseley have an eye-catching home fixture with 4th-placed Blackheath, while Plymouth Albion, 3rd, should have too much for visitors Macclesfield.
Rosslyn Park host Coventry in a heavyweight clash in Roehampton and Ampthill will be looking to make it four wins from their past five when Blaydon travel south.
The matches at Cambridge (v Ionians), DMP (v Fylde) and Old Albanian (v Esher) will all be hotly contested as sides seek to put as much daylight as possible between themselves and the bottom three.
Saturday’s game at Loughborough will be a 2pm kick-off.