Hartpury make their final away trip of the 2017-18 season on Saturday and it could not get much tougher, as they face up to the team who are guaranteed to be the runners-up in this season’s Greene King IPA Championship, Ealing Trailfinders.
It has been a frustrating few weeks for Hartpury, since their home win over London Scottish guaranteed survival in this, their first season at this level.
First came the abject home display against Cornish Pirates, which was followed by two last-gasp defeats, at Richmond and at home last week to third-placed Bedford Blues.
Even more galling in the latter instance was that, having granted their visitors a 19-point lead despite having plenty of first half possession, they had then put in all of the hard work to get it back to a 21-19 lead only for Howard Packman’s last minute try to snatch the points away.
“That was a tough result to swallow,” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“We were careless at times in the first half. We coughed up possession too easily and, against a side like Bedford, it was no great surprise that we found ourselves nineteen points down.
Then we turned it round with, arguably, our best 39 minutes of the season to go in front, only to gift them one more chance which, unfortunately for us, they took.”
Performances have certainly picked up since that dark day against the Cornishmen and the coaching team will be hoping to see to a continuation of that trend on Saturday.
Ealing have had another good season, with just four defeats in their 19 outings so far, with two of those coming narrowly to runaway league Champions, Bristol.
Their latest reversal was a big one, 50-19 away at Doncaster Knights last weekend, although Hartpury will not be expecting anything other than a very thorough examination on Saturday.
Ealing were worthy winners in the reverse fixture back in December. Despite a good first half from the Red & Blacks, in which they took the lead with a Will Tanner try, Ealing hit back hard with tries immediately either side of half-time and eventually pulled away to take the match 33-7.
“Trailfinders will be another extremely tough game,” said Barnes.
“Having just been thumped by Doncaster I’m sure they’ll be looking for a reaction and we will be in their sights. It will be a big ask for us to come away with the win on their 3G pitch, but we’ll be giving it our best shot.”
There are no significant developments on the current injury roster at the Gillman’s Ground, meaning that influential centre, Steve Leonard, is still not ready for a return having missed virtually all of the season so far.
Hartpury may include one or two members of the student squad that, on Wednesday evening, won the BUCS Super Rugby play-off at Twickenham – the Gloucestershire institution’s seventh British Universities success in just 12 seasons since their first triumph in 2007.