Preview Week 3: Esher v Hartpury RFC

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It was back in January when these two teams last met, Hartpury producing one of their most disappointing displays of the 2015-16 season to go down 24-14 at Esher’s Surrey base.

On that occasion there was a great deal of frustration around as, after good post-Christmas victories over Fylde and Coventry, Hartpury missed out on the chance to apply some real pressure on Richmond at the top of the table.

As we know, Hartpury RFC subsequently went on to finish in second place and will have to go one better this season if they are to continue their remarkable record of having improved their league finish in every year since their formation 12 years ago.

In the only other previous visit to this pleasant and welcoming ground, Hartpury were much more convincing, as a team inspired by Mat Protheroe in his debut season (pictured) recorded an impressive bonus point win.

Esher finished the last campaign in a solid, upper-mid-table position – winning 17 of their 30 matches and collecting the third highest number of try-scoring bonus points (14), behind Richmond and Hartpury.

They have had a mixed start to 2016-17, a see-saw battle with newly promoted Macclesfield producing a narrow win in Week 1, before a trip across South London saw them beaten 13-6 in what sounds like a fairly attritional encounter at Blackheath.

Esher appear to have retained the core of their squad from the last campaign, with a former Hartpury student, hooker Callum O’Connell, being among those to re-commit himself to playing at Molesey Road this season.

Perhaps the biggest change since our uncomfortable afternoon in January has been off the field, where former long-serving Director of Rugby Mike Schmid was let go towards the end of last season, to be replaced by the in-house duo of  coaches Ricky Nebbett and former Quins winger Tom Williams.

Hartpury will be very keen to continue the start which has seen them harvest a maximum 10 points from two games, with 10 tries scored and only two conceded – both in a rocky seven-minute spell shortly before half-time in the Plymouth game.  Whether they are able to do so is likely to depend on the team avoiding the occasional inconsistencies which spoiled their away form last season.

Elsewhere in the division there is an interesting match-up at Cambridge, who host fellow new-boys Old Albanian.  Both clubs will be pleased with the starts they have made in National 1, having picked up impressive away wins at Rosslyn Park and Blaydon respectively.  Cambridge also lost narrowly at Plymouth in the opening fixture, while Albanians were only pipped by a single point by promotion contenders Ampthill in Week 2.

The third promoted team, Macclesfield, have also been in good early-season form, although they can probably expect to be fully extended at Coventry this week.  The team travelling in the other direction at the end of last season, Birmingham Moseley, are one of only three unbeaten thus far and might carry a bit too much firepower for Ionians in Week 3.

In the other games, Ampthill will start as favourites against DMP, although the games at Blaydon vs Loughborough, Plymouth vs Rosslyn Park and Fylde vs Blackheath are all harder to call, based on early-season results so far.

Saturday’s match kicks off at 3pm and any support from London-based alumni or friends of Hartpury would be hugely appreciated by the team.

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