Hartpury will be hoping to continue their strong start to the season when they travel to their second away fixture of the campaign this Saturday.
Having looked convincing the last time that they left the comforts of Gloucestershire (a 32-13 win at Esher) the Red & Blacks are now likely to face the stiffest of challenges when they visit the Butts Park Arena, home of Coventry.
Our hosts will be much-changed from the last time we were there, a little over a year ago (pictured), as an underwhelming season in 2015-16 resulted in wholesales changes at the inner-city Midlands club over the summer. In came a new coaching team, headed by Rowland Winter who had successfully masterminded Cambridge’s return to National One, along with a raft of players.
Pre-season predictions largely suggested that the new-look outfit would be a force to be reckoned with in the coming campaign and big home wins over Loughborough and Macclesfield appear to vindicate that view. However, two defeats on the road have not been what the doctor ordered for Cov and, whilst defeats at Moseley and Blackheath hardly represent shock results, it will be the magnitude of the reversal in South-East London last weekend (42-5) that will be a cause for concern.
Reports from Well Hall (the new home of Blackheath) suggest that Coventry have continued to grow bigger and stronger in the front five, but might be susceptible to a side that is able to move the ball away from their substantial pack of forwards.
Whatever the truth of that, there is nothing in the short history between these two clubs to suggest that anything other than a close match is in store. Hartpury’s last two visits to the ground have resulted in paper-thin winning margins and on both occasions Coventry have missed late shots at goal which could have changed the results completely. Matches at the College have also been close, with one win apiece so far.
There is no team news at the time of writing, although Coventry have a strong squad to call on, with more than a sprinkling of southern hemisphere know-how.
Strike runner Rob Knox is retained from last season, as are hooker Matt Price and goal-kicker Cliffie Hodgson. Coming in from other League 1 clubs are players that Hartpury will already know, such as lock Rob Conquest, recruited from Mowden Park, and ex-Ampthill players back-rower Darrell Dyer and fly-half Will Maisey, who returns to his previous employer.
A likely presence in the front row will be former Leicester Tiger, kiwi Boris Stankovich, although there will be some local interest in a potential bench replacement for him, former Hartpury RFC BUCS-winner, Jimmy Litchfield. Other RFC old boys Loti Molitika and Alex Woodburn were among the players to leave the Butts in the close season.
Hartpury should be able to choose from depth, although the return of A-League action on Monday might limit some of the dual-registered options.
Cov versus Hartpury is arguably the stand-out fixture in National 1 this weekend, although there may be some argument on that score from Birmingham, from whence the also-unbeaten Moseley take their squad to another of the pre-season favourites, Ampthill. Moseley had to come from a half-time deficit to defeat Blaydon last time out, whilst Ampthill soothed memories of their home defeat to DMP by winning at Loughborough.
Blackheath have recovered well from their opening day loss at the College and will travel to Ionians in good spirit, while DMP, also in good form after an initial defeat at Hull, face an interesting trip to Rosslyn Park. Four narrow defeats have left Park close to the foot of the table, although no panic buttons will be getting pushed just yet and winning at home would be just what they need to get the show on the road.
Old Albanians are showing up well in the early league table and will need to continue their good form to get something from the long trip to Plymouth Albion.
In the North, Blaydon will no doubt be hoping that home advantage will enable them to record their first win of the season versus Macclesfield, as will Fylde who host Esher. Cambridge and Loughborough will both fancy their chances when they meet in East Anglia.
Coventry v Hartpury RFC kicks off at 3pm at Butts Park Arena, Butts Rd, Coventry CV1 3GE.