Hartpury will be hoping a packed programme for its’ senior rugby teams this week does not impact on their preparations and performances over the weekend.
With around eight members of the RFC and University Centre squads training with England at Pennyhill Park on Thursday and a BUCS Super Rugby fixture in Northumbria on Friday night that requires an overnight stay, Hartpury RFC’s resources are going to be more stretched than usual as they head into their home clash with Darlington Mowden Park on Saturday (2.30pm kick-off).
While the University Centre side will be hoping to complete a BUCS Super Rugby double over Northumbria to stay at the top of the table and maintain their unbeaten run, Hartpury RFC will be hoping to increase or maintain their 12-point advantage at the top of National League One by scooping their 12th successive bonus point win of the season.
Last weekend saw them break the record for Level 3 and above for most bonus point wins in a row and Director of Rugby, John Barnes, admits that maintaining focus when facing teams near the wrong end of the table, like Darlington Mowden Park, is a challenge he and his coaching team are only too aware of.
“Looking at the games we’ve had for the past two weeks and this one, you’d have said looking at the table that we’re in the middle of an easy run, but they are all potential banana skins and it’s vital that we’re switched on,” said Barnes.
“It will be the same for the BUCS team on Friday night. We beat Northumbria comfortably at home [67-6] but this game is being played as a curtain-raiser to the Aviva Premiership clash between Newcastle Falcons against Exeter.
“The game looks like being a sell-out and with a big crowd behind them and on the back of beating Bath away last week, Northumbria will be up for the challenge and we can’t afford to take them lightly. “We’re without our captain, Seb Negri [back row], too, as he’s still away with the Italy Development squad, and Jamie Forrester [centre] is out with a injury to his cheek.
“Plus, with the University Centre team staying up north on Friday night and several other RFC players potentially out injured, we’ll have less players available to pick from for DMP on Saturday too.” Back row Rhys Oakley (shoulder) and second rows Joe Quinn and Ben Chan (both with ear problems) will face injury assessments ahead of the game, while prop Wayne Thompson is definitely out, having come off only five minutes into the RFC’s 32-0 win at Old Albanians last weekend with an injured back. Fellow prop, Tim Brockett, is also sidelined with a back injury.
Darlington have won four and lost seven of their league fixtures this season to sit 13th in National League One but they will take some heart from the fact they did overturn high-flying Hartpury last season – claiming a surprise 36-27 home win.
Hartpury had thumped them 50-7 at home though. Barnes added: “We’ve beaten them three times in the past two seasons but we know they could potentially cause us a few problems. They have a good link-up with Newcastle Falcons and they are full-time.
“Our squad is in great spirits though and good form. It was tough conditions at Old Albanians last week – very wet and the pitch and ball were really greasy – but we adapted well. It was hard to play our usual game but it was good to nil a team after a few weeks when we hadn’t been so sound defensively.
“And there’s no doubt that to secure 11 bonus point wins is an outstanding achievement from everyone involved – the players, coaches and the support staff. They have all bought into what we are trying to achieve and they have been excellent. Securing the record is reward for that commitment.”
Friday night’s BUCS Super Rugby game, which is being badged as the ‘Big Night Oot’ sees Northumbria and Hartpury face off on Falcons’ main pitch at 4.45pm. There will be free curry after the Falcons game plus live music and a DJ in the West and East bars.