Preview Week 23: Hartpury College v Blackheath

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After a cracking start at Mowden Park last Saturday, Hartpury lost the plot against a side in good form and ended up well beaten, despite two late second half tries putting something of a gloss on the scoreline.

There were some good individual performances – Dan Thomas, as usual, rates a mention in this regard – but collectively the team made too many mistakes and experienced a general lack of accuracy in much of what they did.

The result leaves Hartpury 10 points adrift of Richmond and hoping that DMP can repeat the dose over the next few weekends, by clipping the wings of the both the league leaders and second-placed Blackheath.

That would just leave the College with the small task of beating the aforementioned Blackheath, at the Academy this Saturday (2.30pm), to revitalise their prospects.

Games against the south London side have all been extremely tight affairs so far.  Last-gasp away defeats, both this season and last, were somewhat balanced by a 19-12 home win when Blackheath came to Gloucestershire almost a year ago.

The deciding score in that match was a dazzling individual effort from current England Under-20 fly half Mat Protheroe, but he won’t be here this weekend (on the pitch, anyway) along with at least 11 others from the squad that day…

A win, preferably with a bonus point, would be just about enough to keep Hartpury in the hunt for promotion this year, with Richmond also needing to visit the Shire in April.  Team news is not yet available, but coaches and management would no doubt be happy to see Steve Leonard (pictured vs Blackheath, last season) back and fit in the midfield and, perhaps, the experienced presence of Robbie Shaw at half-back.

Some more options did become available despite the unwanted result at Darlington.  Second row Joe Dancer played 35 minutes and looked ready for more, while BUCS skipper Jamie Forrester was sharp in attack, also as a second half replacement.

Blackheath, as can be deduced from their league position, are having a good season.  Just three defeats from their 21 games sees them level on points with Hartpury but with a better win percentage and a game in hand.

All of their losses have come away from home, although their most remarkable outcome, a 34-all draw with visitors Fylde, was at the Rectory Field, their historical home which they will leave at the end of this season in search of larger revenues.

Again, we have no team news from London at the this stage but would hope to see at least one familiar face in the shape of George Edgson, formerly a loose-head but now a hooker, who is continuing his development away from his parent club, Wasps.  George appeared for Hartpury in two AASE finals (2013/14), winning both (of course!)

We’re not expecting anything other than another desperately close game at the weekend – it should be great entertainment (no distractions at Kingsholm or on the telly) for what we hope will be a good crowd…

The pick of the other games, as previously referred to, is at the RAG where Mowden Park will be looking to extend their winning run to 13.  Too close to call, based on what we’ve seen this season, although we did prove that Richmond can be beaten at home when we went there in December.

Elsewhere, Plymouth can keep in touch with the leading group at home to Henley while Esher, seeking to do the same, could have too much motivation for a Coventry side which appears to be drifting towards the end of the season.

Wharfedale will be hoping that they can ‘do a number’ on another London team, as Rosslyn Park follow the path trodden by Blackheath, beaten in the Dales a fortnight ago.  Blaydon, who boosted their survival chances with a big home win last time out, go to Fylde for a fixture which is likely to feature a clash of styles and could be tight.

The remaining fixtures feature teams which have slipped into trouble in recent weeks.  Ionians could potentially put some of that worry behind them at home to a seemingly (and sadly) doomed Cinderford.  Loughborough, at home, will find Ampthill (Hartpury’s next opponents, away, 5th March) to be a tough nut to crack, but will remember that they ran the Bedfordshire side very close on their visit there in November.

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