Week 2 of the Championship season is upon us and Hartpury enter more new territory, with the first home fixture at this level and the first encounter with the Jersey Reds.
Although the two sides have never met, there are some similarities in the respective recent histories as both have enjoyed a rapid elevation in the past 10-12 years, with the islanders always being a few seasons ahead of Hartpury and reaching tier two for the start of the 2012-13 season.
For many years a popular rugby touring destination, Jersey’s ‘modern history’ began in 2006 when they employed their first professional players, finally becoming a fully professional squad, at first team level, in 2013.
In recent seasons, the club has been home to a number of players who received international recognition including Ben Evans (Wales), Regan King (New Zealand), Jack Cuthbert (Scotland) and Sami Fisilau (Tonga). The most notable homegrown player has been Matt Banahan, who played for the club’s first XV as a teenager, before moving to Bath and winning 16 England caps.
“They’ve developed an exceptionally good forward pack over the years and the testimony to that is the fact that a number of them who got signed by Premiership clubs over the summer”, said Director of Rugby at Hartpury, John Barnes.
“They are much-changed from last season but they performed well against Doncaster – who are definitely one of the better teams in the Championship – so we know we’re going to be up against it again at the weekend.
Obviously, we’ve watched them – they are pretty physical and they work hard at the breakdown to disrupt the opposition ball. They still have a very decent pack and a very good number nine, from what we’ve seen. They will want to play some decent rugby.”
That number nine is former Wales Under-20 scrum-half Kieran Hardy, who signed for the Reds in 2016 having previously played for Carmarthen Quins and having represented the Scarlets in the LV Cup. Pace is one of his greatest assets, which has also seen him pressed into action on the wing on occasion.
Another player to watch out for will be full-back Scott van Breda. A native of Cape Town, he has played plenty of provincial rugby in South Africa – most notably for both Eastern Province and Western Province, but also for both the Southern Kings and the Stormers in Super Rugby.
One man who will need no introduction at Hartpury is lock forward James Voss (pictured, above). He joined Hartpury as a student in 2014, from Jersey, and during his two years here represented both the BUCS 1st XV and the RFC in National One. Re-joining the Reds last year, he made 15 first team appearances despite injury.
Other old boys who could be involved at the weekend are Rory Bartle (below), who developed playing AASE, BUCS and RFC rugby at Hartpury and Ellis Abrahams, who made a scattering of appearances during last season’s National One triumph. Prop forward Alec Clarey, another popular former player, is injured and unavailable for selection.
Hartpury come into the game buoyed by a strong, if ultimately unrewarded, performance at Championship favourites, Bristol Rugby, in the opening round.
“The positives were that we competed – and competed really well,” said Barnes.
“There was no bigger challenge in the league for us than facing Bristol first up – we were happy with most of what we did and were disappointed not to come away with something from the game.
We had the upper hand up front which, after a good pre-season from our forwards, I thought we might have. One or two decisions didn’t go the way we felt that they should have, but that’s going to happen in rugby – we just have to get on with it.”
One casualty of the Bristol match is centre Steve Leonard, who will definitely miss the Jersey game after collecting a shoulder injury. Ed Sheldon is recovering well from a hamstring pull and should be back in around two weeks, according to Barnes.