Hartpury RFC will lock horns with a star-studded line-up when they take on promotion rivals Birmingham Moseley on Saturday (December 3rd, KO 2.30pm).
Anticipation has been building for this fixture since the National League One fixtures were announced. The mission for Moseley Director of Rugby Kevin Maggs was clear; stay at the helm to steer the league new boys to a rapid return to the Greene King IPA Championship.
Hartpury, however, are doing their best to thwart those ambitions, with 13 consecutive bonus point wins seeing them perched at the top of the table – 14 points clear of their Midlands rivals.
While Moseley have only slipped up twice, some of their wins have been far from convincing, most recently claiming a 22-12 success at home to Blackheath, having edged to a 17-15 win at struggling Macclesfield the previous week and losing 27-20 to in-form Plymouth Albion prior to that.
They will bring a squad jam-packed with experience to Hartpury though, not least former Gloucester Rugby centre, New Zealander Tim Molenaar, ex-Worcester centre, Scottish international Alex Grove, and England Sevens star, Chris Brightwell, the New Zealand-born number eight who formerly played for Sale Sharks.
Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes, said: “Moseley realistically have to win this game to stay in touch with us at the top of National League One, so we know exactly what to expect.
“They have a hugely experienced squad; not just their ex-Premiership stars but also players with years of Championship experience. They have some excellent backs but they also have a set-piece to back that up. Chris Brightwell is an outstanding ball carrier, but they are a good team all round.”
While they will have done their homework, Hartpury will still face something of an unknown quantity in Moseley, having never played them before. And they cannot afford a repeat of their slow start at mid-table Loughborough Students last week, when they went 13-3 down before getting into their stride to establish an 18-13 lead at the half-time interval and eventually claim a 47-25 victory.
“We were expecting Loughborough to be one of our hardest games so far and so it proved,” added Barnes.
“They always play good rugby on their rugby crumb and they have added some more experienced players to their squad this season. There’s no doubt they started better than us and with us making some errors, they deserved their early lead.
“But scoring just before half-time was a major boost psychologically and we went on to put in a strong second half. It was an exciting game between two sides who wanted to play rugby.”
Hartpury did pick up a few knocks at Loughborough, with second row Joe Dancer (ankle), prop Alex Clarey (back) and centre Luke Eves (hamstring, pictured) all facing injury assessments before the weekend. The good news is that dual registered Harlequins’ flyer, Hartpury Strength and Conditioning degree student Jonas Mikalcius, is likely to be available again on Saturday, as is on loan Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy.