Two teams having very different seasons meet at Dockham Road on Saturday, as the highest-placed Gloucestershire teams outside the Aviva Premiership collide in what is a crucial match for both sides.
Hartpury’s DoR, Alan Martinovic, is right when he says that league positions will mean nothing when the two sides kick off at 3pm on Saturday – local derbies between these two have been tight and tense affairs so far – but what cannot be denied is that both clubs need the points as the season moves toward the final third.
Hartpury, after a series of inconsistent and occasionally indifferent displays that saw them lose three from six, finally kicked back into form with an 11-try dissection of Blaydon last week.
The result keeps them in touch with leaders Richmond and second-placed Blackheath, both also winners on the day, but also means that every point remains vital if they are to maintain their challenge. Both London clubs have yet to visit the College this season and Hartpury will want to ensure that they are still very much in the picture when those games come around.
Cinderford, on the other hand, were a distant second to Loughborough Students on a day when a win could not only have eased some of their own worries but also dragged their hosts firmly into the relegation scrap. As it is, the 43-12 defeat was their fifth in six outings – the other result being their high scoring draw with Wharfedale – and left the Foresters rooted at the bottom of the table, seven points adrift of Dale who currently occupy the coveted 13th spot.
Cinderford will well remember their stirring recovery over the closing weeks of last season, in which they produced an unlikely series of results to pip Old Albanian to safety, but equally they will know that the best time for any winning run to start is now.
Much will depend upon availability and, although there is no team news as yet, Hartpury will be glad to be able to name something close to the XV that started last week’s romp. Surely the names of Vellacott and Mikalcius, both of whom collected four tries in fine individual displays, as well as man-of-the-match Luke Eves, will already be inked in?
Hartpury have won all three of the previous league meetings between the teams. Last season’s game at Cinderford – Hartpury’s second ever League 1 fixture back in September 2014 – was their first win at this level and only made certain when centre Craig Jackson squeezed into the corner in the closing minutes (pictured).
Another close game is expected, with conditions overhead and underfoot sure to play their part in what could be an enthralling encounter.
In other matches, Hartpury will be hoping that Blaydon bounce back quickly from last week’s mauling when Richmond are the visitors to Crow Trees. The leaders may have only lost three of nineteen this season, but the long trip to Tyneside is generally a stern examination for most teams.
Blackheath are at home, but can also expect a tough test from Ampthill whose recent form has been good, despite going down at Mowden Park last Saturday. DMP have now won an impressive nine on the run and will fancy their chances of making it 10 at home to Wharfedale.
Esher’s win over Hartpury, two weeks ago, put them back in the promotion hunt and despite last Saturday’s loss to Richmond they can stay in touch if they beat Plymouth at Molesey Road.
Henley will be firmly in the ‘last chance saloon’ if they fail to beat Loughborough at home, while the games at Coventry (vs Ionians) and Rosslyn Park (vs Fylde) look to be all about pride.