Hartpury jump on a plane this weekend to visit one the Championship’s heavyweights, Jersey Reds, buoyed by three good performances which have brought wins, at home to Richmond and Nottingham, and a near-miss at second-placed Ealing.
This is the Red & Blacks’ second visit to the island. Last year they produced a gutsy effort before going down 18-14, having also lost by a very narrow margin at home, in a game where they should probably have taken all of the points.
However, the reverse encounter earlier this season was a very different affair as the Reds ran in seven tries to earn themselves an emphatic victory at the Gillman’s Ground.
“Jersey will provide us with a massive challenge this weekend,” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“We are going to a place where they don’t lose very often, so for us to take anything out of the game is going to require another big performance.”
“We know them to be a big, physical side with one of the best set pieces in the Championship. We need to compete in those areas, so the forwards will need to be at their best for the full 80 minutes.”
Jersey currently sit third in the table, with 11 wins from 17 matches so far. Their recent form has been generally good, although they did suffer a somewhat surprising home to defeat to London Scottish last month.
They had a stand-out result back in November, when they ended league-leader’s, London Irish, unbeaten start to the season with an eye-catching 17-14 home win.
Having performed similar heroics at Ashton Gate last season to down the eventual champions, Bristol Bears, they have proved themselves more than capable of living with the top sides in the league.
Former Hartpury student, Rory Bartle, has had a good spell with the Reds, having become a seemingly integral part of the starting back row, although another old boy, prop forward Alec Clarey, has been less lucky after suffering a long-term Achilles tendon injury in the opening match of the season.
Hartpury have no fresh injury concerns and so should be in position to name a similar squad to that which won a nail-biter against Nottingham Rugby in the last round.
They will be hoping to retain the services of influential scrum-half, Ben Vellacott (pictured), who has been playing on dual registration from Gloucester Rugby in the past two matches and who grabbed a sharp brace of tries at Ealing.
“We were obviously very pleased with the Nottingham result,” said Barnes.
“We felt that it was likely to be a tight game and we needed to ride our luck at the end, when they missed a touchline conversion that would have taken the points away from us.”
“The defeat at Ealing was a big disappointment, after they way that we had played for the first hour, so I was very pleased with the way that the players picked themselves up after that.”
“As it happened, with Richmond getting their own win versus Ealing the next day, the four points that we got from Nottingham could be absolutely vital in our efforts to stay in the Championship.”
Saturday’s game, at the Stade Satander International, kicks off at 3pm.