With the 2018-19 Greene King IPA Championship season just a little over 48 hours away, we caught up with Head Coach, Mark Cornwell, for his thoughts on pre-season and the opener against Yorkshire Carnegie, this Friday (Gillman’s Ground, 7.45pm).
Hartpury have had two pre-season fixtures, away at both Worcester Warriors and National 1 side, Cinderford, as well as a conditioned session with the Bristol Bears and a couple of training run-outs with Gloucester Rugby.
“It’s been a long pre-season – we came in on June 11th – which seems like an age ago now,” said Cornwell. “The lads have worked incredibly hard – and I know that all coaches are going to say that – but this season was unusual because a lot of it took place in a heatwave!
The boys are now absolutely ready to get out there on Friday and to put into practice everything we’ve been working on for the past several weeks.
Worcester was very tough for us, as we knew that it would be, but we took a lot of things to work on out of that game which have been extremely valuable for us in the last couple of weeks. The boys have reacted incredibly well to the experience.
It’s difficult to get continuity in these games because you want to look at a wide group of players and there are always people running on and off. However, from our point of view there were a lot of positives out of the Cinderford game.
I was disappointed with a couple of things in the first period (of three) but, as we got things going, we scored a couple of tries out wide and also managed to get the driving lineout working well. It’s always a ‘work in progress’ at any club, but we’re happy with where we are at the moment.
We’ve picked up a couple of bumps in pre-season, both in the games and in training, which is not ideal, but we play a physical game and so we’ve just got to get on with it.”
In terms of squad health, influential centre Steve Leonard is targeting the Week 2 fixture, away to Doncaster Knights, as a possible return date from a hamstring niggle.
Another three-quarter, Nick Carpenter, has rolled an ankle and will be unavailable for three to four weeks, while up-and-coming flanker, Max Clementson, is also unlucky, having sustained a broken metatarsal in a freak training injury, which is likely to keep him side-lined for up to two months.
Full-back, Mike Wilcox, collected a shoulder injury in the Cinderford game and is under-going checks this week to establish the prognosis.
More positively, Hartpury supporters can expect to see a few new faces in the Red & Black this season.
“There are a number of players who have come from outside with good experience,” said Cornwell. “People like new club skipper Simon Linsell, Luke Cozens, Richard Bolt, Ben Foley and Jake Henry.
Also, it’s fantastic to see guys coming through from our BUCS Super Rugby (university) programme who have, frankly, played so well that they have earned the chance to step up from student rugby into the Championship squad.
I’m talking about the likes of Des Merrey, Luke Stratford, Jamie Forrester and Max Clementson, who will all be getting a chance to show us what they can do at this level, because they’ve all had such strong pre-seasons and have bridged that gap.”
Friday’s opponents, Yorkshire Carnegie, appear to have had a more settled summer than was, perhaps, the case last year, although there have been changes at the top, as Steve Boden was promoted to role of Head Coach, replacing former rugby league-man, James Lowes.
“I’m expecting a big pack to be trying to lay a platform for them to play off,” said Cornwell. “It’s probably going to be a pretty similar approach from what we saw in the two matches that we had against them last year.
They have got some good attacking backs and they are resilient and strong defensively. We had two very close games against them last season, with a draw here and a narrow defeat away from home in a match that we felt we should have got more from.
Yorkshire Carnegie have been around at this level, and above, for a very long time. They’ve got a great tradition and a good history, so we obviously respect them, but we’ll be ready for them on Friday night.”