The last time Ampthill visited Hartpury, in April 2014 (pictured), was a red letter day for the College as, in defeating their nearest rivals, the Red & Blacks clinched promotion to National League One at the third attempt and only 10 years after their introduction to the English rugby pyramid.
The game itself was a thriller as Ampthill worked hard to stay in touch despite tries from Ross Moriarty, Stef Reynolds (2), George Boulton and Jaike Carter. The final scoreline of 39-30 was a fair reflection of the entertainment on show.
Ampthill subsequently lost their play-off to Mowden Park but did not make the same mistake the following season, despite finishing as runners-up to Hull Ionians, having been switched into League Two North.
As new arrivals in National One, Amps have made an impressive start. They currently sit in 5th place in this highly competitive group – one of five teams at the top separated by only two points. Like Hartpury, they have suffered two defeats, against Blackheath and Rosslyn Park, although they were also held to a draw at home by Henley at a time when they were leading the division earlier in the season.
Much of their threat seems to come from a strong pack of forwards, with a distinctly Polynesian flavour. Front-rower Aleki Lutui has been recruited from Gloucester, via the RWC for Tonga, and may be joined at the coal-face by another former Tongan international Viliami Ma’asi. Lock Paino Hehea has come from Calvisano while Amps still have the option of calling on player-coach Maama Molitika in the back five. Although none of these players are in the first flush of youth – Hehea is the youngest at 35 – they still have plenty to offer at this level.
However, they boast plenty of younger talent as well, and in the backs have a good source of points in try-scoring, goal-kicking winger, Elliot Clements-Hill.
Hartpury, looking to bounce quickly back after last week’s last minute one-point loss at Blackheath, will know that they need to be at their best this week to repeat that result from 2014. It should be a cracker. As always, a 2.30 kick off at the Academy.
Elsewhere, there are a couple of eye-catching fixtures in the south-east. New leaders Esher will be put to the test by Rosslyn Park (6th) while Blackheath (2nd) travel across south London to meet Richmond (4th). Neighbours Cinderford, encouraged by a win over Ionians, will be looking to break out of the bottom three at Fylde.