Last week’s results left National One very much ‘as you were’. At the top, the only major moves came as a result of Plymouth’s big defeat at Ampthill, with Albion slipping from third to fifth, behind both Ampthill and Blackheath.
Richmond stayed 10 points clear with a narrow win at Wharfedale, meaning that Hartpury’s free-flowing performance at Loughborough simply served to maintain the status quo.
This week we welcome Rosslyn Park to the Academy. By their own recent standards, Park have under-performed this season and parted company with head coach James Buckland a few weeks ago.
However, there have been signs in recent matches that form is starting to return for the South London side who have won all of their past five fixtures, notwithstanding the fact that, among their victims, only Esher came from the upper half of the table.
Pre-season, Park would have been many people’s tip for promotion and four wins from their opening four matches did nothing to dispel that view. Despite some inconsistency in results through the autumn, they were still reasonably positioned approaching the half-way mark.
Five defeats in seven outings through the Christmas and January period proved to be their undoing although, in retrospect, a run of fixtures involving Richmond, Plymouth, DMP, Blackheath and Ampthill was always going to be a challenge for any side slightly ‘off colour’.
Hartpury will be under no illusions regarding the magnitude of the challenge this weekend. In three previous league fixtures against Park, the college have yet to take as much as a single bonus point, the closest result being November’s disappointing 18-26 defeat at Roehampton.
Last season, the students lost the home fixture 10-31, despite a good try from England Sevens flyer, Ruaridh McConnochie (pictured).
Whatever the circumstances, Park can normally put together a strong and competitive pack of forwards and a set of backs which plays to its strengths without resorting to anything too flashy. Saturday is unlikely to be any different and a tough 80 minutes beckons.
Hartpury’s win at Loughborough came at a cost, with neither centre Steve Leonard nor line-out banker Joe Dancer likely to feature through injury. In addition, Jacob Perry, Mike Flook and Tom MacDonald, all regular picks throughout the season when fit, are required elsewhere by England Students. Will Safe remains side-lined following concussion.
Having said this, the team acquitted itself well last week – some first half inaccuracy aside – and will be desperate for the win to ensure that the following fixture, at home to leaders Richmond, is a game with real significance.
Richmond themselves will be disappointed with anything less than a maximum at home to Loughborough. Ampthill, currently five points adrift of Hartpury in third, will travel to Ionians with similar ambitions.
Nothing at the bottom is completely decided yet, although Henley’s long-expected demise will be confirmed if they do not achieve a bonus-point win at Esher.
Cinderford have given themselves a glimmer of hope over the past few games and could really turn up the heat on the sides above them with a win this week. However, a long trip to an equally points-hungry Blaydon is probably not the fixture they would have wanted in this particular round.
Wharfedale are another team who will not go quietly, as recent performances against the two top teams have shown. Their visit to Plymouth is made more interesting by the Devonians’ long injury list, the unknown impact of their impending administration and the potential repercussions from last week’s damaging result at Ampthill. Who knows?
Fylde and Coventry seem to have been inseparable in mid-table for most of the season. This week they will be looking to pick up wins in their penultimate home fixtures, against Blackheath and Darlington MP respectively.