Looking at the National League One table, few would bet against Hartpury RFC securing their sixth successive bonus point win on Saturday, but director of rugby John Barnes knows better than to take the threat of Hull Ionians lightly.
A poor performance in last season’s league opener up north (pictured, Mark Harrison off-loading) saw Hartpury go down 37-32 to the then newly promoted side, although it was a blip in an otherwise impressive campaign and Hartpury did turn the tables emphatically back at the College as they romped to a 68-21 success.
“I don’t think you can read too much into last season’s results against Hull, especially being the first game and then the last game when we were on a roll and there was nothing on it for us,” said Barnes.
“Hull were unlucky to lose last week to a penalty in the last kick of the game against Blackheath and they will take confidence from that. They always give us a really good contest up front and, for the first time, we have the challenge of having a National League One game and a BUCS fixture in the same week.
“But we’ll be in confident mood, particularly on the back of our hard-fought win (27-23) at Coventry. To go there and take the bonus point when we were under such pressure – down to 13 men for a time and playing in front of a big partisan crowd – shows real character.
“They were hurting from a heavy defeat the week before and they really took it to us up front but it did us good having our first really physical test and we stood up to it.”
Hartpury head into Saturday’s clash riding high, seven points clear of second placed Birmingham Moseley in National League One as the only unbeaten side, having won every game so far with a bonus point.
Their visitors currently sit eighth after two wins and three losses, having secured five bonus points in close fought games.
While Hartpury look likely to be without injury doubts, full-back Mike Wilcox (hip) and centre George Boulton (ankle), they will still have a strong squad to select from, with potentially four dual-registered players, including last weekend’s star of the show, Gloucester Rugby scrum-half and current Hartpury student, Harry Randall.
Harlequins’ winger, and also a current student, Jonas Mikalcius, is also likely to feature, along with Bath back Darren Atkins and Bristol winger, Elias Caven – the latter duo making their RFC debuts.
Barnes added: “I think everyone is excited to see what more is to come from Harry. It was good for him to get 80 minutes under his belt in the win against Fylde and then he put in a match-winning performance at Coventry. He was excellent and he’s still only studying for his Diploma here.”
Around the grounds, two of the other early pace-makers are also at home as Moseley and Blackheath welcome Cambridge and Blaydon respectively. Plymouth Albion, with four wins from five, travel to no-longer winless Fylde while third placed Ampthill are also up the M6 at Macclesfield.
Esher, with only one win to their name so far, will be keen to get something at home but will be fully tested by a Coventry team looking for their first win away from the Midlands. Rosslyn Park will be feeling better about life after beating DMP last week and will be no strangers to the artificial surface when they visit Loughborough Students.
DMP themselves remain in the top half of the table and sixth plays seventh as Old Albanian are the visitors to the Northern Echo Arena.
The game with Ionians kicks off at 2.30pm, as always. See you there!