Having recovered from the home defeat to Plymouth with two wins over mid-table opposition (Fylde and Coventry) Hartpury will need to step up as they travel to promotion outsiders Esher this weekend.
Lying one place and five points behind Hartpury, Esher have been very decent this season so far. Despite starting with a home defeat to newly-promoted Ampthill, they have picked up some very good results including a 46-5 drubbing of our own most recent opponents, Coventry, a big win at Plymouth and another at Fylde.
However, their stand-out result so far was when they beat current league leaders Richmond at Molesey Road, in what sounds like an epic encounter which produced a 41-34 scoreline.
They have slipped up a few times at home this season (to Ampthill, Rosslyn Park and DMP) whilst their biggest defeat on the road came when they visited the college back in September.
Hartpury ruled the roost that day and, whilst it was not our most fluid performance of the season, it was still good enough to produce a 30-13 scoreline. The game itself was a personal landmark for full-back Gareth Thompson (pictured), who collected all of Hartpury’s points on a day when he ran in three tries, as well as landing six successful kicks.
Esher contain at least two former Hartpury players in their squad. Brandon Walker is in his third season with the club having previously skippered our BUCS XV during his student days while a more recent alumni, hooker Callum O’Connell, joined the Surrey outfit this season after leaving the bubble in the summer. Whether either player is likely to feature this weekend is not clear from the Esher website.
The corresponding fixture last season, almost exactly a year ago, found Hartpury in the middle of a purple patch during which they won nine consecutive matches. Hartpury took the lead through an early Dan Thomas try, but then had to whether a storm as Esher launched their big forwards at the Hartpury line, finally picking up a Collins try.
However, Hartpury wrested control of the game through the performance of their own very fine set of forwards and Jaike Carter had the visitors ahead at the break. From then on it was largely one way traffic as Thomas (again) crossed, before the Esher scrum was demolished on its own line leading to a penalty try. The game was ‘finessed’ by a fine end-to-end team try late in the match, started by Des Merrey, carried on by Mat Protheroe and finished by a flying Steph Reynolds.
This weekend’s game is sure to be competitive, as both teams seek to remain involved in matters at the top, and should be an absolute belter in what threaten to be somewhat drier conditions than we have seen of late.
In other games, leaders Richmond travel to inconsistent Coventry while Blackheath, second, will have their work cut out as they visit the league’s form team, Darlington Mowden Park.
The latest ‘must win’ game for both Cinderford and Wharfedale comes when they meet at the Beavis Memorial ground in a game which neither, simply, can afford to lose. Blaydon, who did themselves a power of good by winning at Wharfedale last week, can push Loughborough Students into the relegation picture by beating them when they visit the north-east.
The other troubled team, Henley, reportedly put in a good display in defeat at Blackheath and will want to re-capture that spirit when they entertain Ampthill, while the remaining game will see Fylde hoping to shake off the ‘unlucky losers’ tag with the visit of Plymouth.