Hartpury RFC have confirmed that newly-arrived lock forward, Simon Linsell, will be their club captain for the 2018-19 Greene King IPA Championship season.
Linsell has recently graduated in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Exeter. Whilst at Exeter, he also skippered their successful BUCS Super Rugby side, fierce rivals of Hartpury’s own university team.
“I had four very good years down at Exeter – lots of fun and great memories – and have been on both ends of results against Hartpury over that time”, he said.
“It has become a fantastic rivalry and it’s a little bit weird to have changed sides, although I’m not eligible for BUCS (university) rugby any more so I won’t end up playing against my old mates!”
This will not, however, be Linsell’s first experience in the Red & Black. Having grown up in the Cotswolds and played for his local club, Painswick RFC, his schoolboy career at Marling (Stroud) led him to the Gloucester Rugby Academy and eventually to Hartpury. Linsell played a number of games in the successful 2013-14 season, which saw the club promoted to National League 1.
“For me, it’s not like coming to a strange team, or into the ‘enemy’ camp”, he said. “Obviously the coaching set-up is pretty similar with Barnesy and Pasty (DoR John Barnes and Head Coach Mark Cornwell), while people like Will Tanner, Steve Leonard, Chris Fortey and Wayne Thompson were all in the team at that time.”
What are the major challenges for Linsell, as he contemplates life as a captain in the Championship?
“The rugby is going to be a step up” he said. “I’ve played Premiership A-League and trained at a high level, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to play this standard week in, week out.
Regarding the captaincy, I’m not going to try and change my style too much – Barnesy and Pasty have put their faith in me for a reason and I’m going to stick to the things that worked for me at Exeter.
I like to lead by example, particularly in training, trying to keep to a high tempo and a high energy level. I talk when I need to – some captains tend to talk too much – and I know when to delegate. We’ve got two very experienced vice-captains, in Dan Murphy and Luke Eves, and a number of other leaders throughout the team. It’s definitely not a one-man job.”
Progress will be measured in performances on the field and points won, but how has Linsell settled into the Hartpury environment during the pre-season?
“It’s been going really well. We’ve had blocks of hard work, with some occasional breaks, and now the intensity is starting to ramp up. The boys are getting into good shape physically, but also in terms of our tactics and the shape that we want to play. It’s been really enjoyable to get stuck in.”
Hartpury had a very useful run-out with Premiership side Bristol recently and have been in training with Gloucester occasionally over the past three weeks. There are now two pre-season fixtures, against Worcester Warriors this coming Saturday (Sixways, 3pm) and at Cinderford (Thursday, August 23, 7pm) before the big Championship kick-off, at home to Yorkshire Carnegie on Friday, 31st August (7.45pm).
“Personally, I just want to play as much rugby as possible,” said Linsell. “I know everybody in the squad is feeling the same way and there is good competition for places.
As a team, last season Hartpury achieved the target of staying in Championship, which was a fantastic effort, and the job now is to press on, away from the foot of the table and closer to the middle.
We can do that by making our home ground a fortress and by picking up the odd scalp on our travels.”
Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes, is clearly happy with the appointment he has made.
“For quite a few seasons now, we’ve chosen very experienced players as captain,” he said. “Simon is different in that he’s young, he’s local and he’s played for Hartpury before, all of which make him an exciting option from our point of view.”
“Most importantly, he comes with excellent credentials for the job. He’s been part of a very successful set-up at Exeter University for the past few years, where he has clearly been an important part of the leadership team. His coaches at Exeter have had nothing but praise for him, as both a player and a captain, and we’re sure that we’ve picked the right man for the job.”