It’s been a dream start but Hartpury RFC director of rugby John Barnes knows how important it is for his squad to stay focused and grounded in their quest for National League One honours.
Saturday’s 43-14 victory over Hull Ionians saw Hartpury scoop their sixth successive bonus point win to sit seven points clear of Birmingham Moseley at the top of the table.
But, while Barnes was happy with the result, he also felt it was his team’s weakest performance of the season so far, and he’s keen for them to return to their ruthless best when they make the long trip to bottom side, Blaydon, on Saturday.
“We’d talked about maintaining our focus all week in the build-up to the Hull game given they have several Championship players from Rotherham but we made a lot of errors on the day,” said Barnes.
“We’re going to have games where we don’t perform at our optimum level though and we still came out of it with a win. We just didn’t execute our game as well as we have in previous weeks.
“Having said that, no Hartpury senior rugby side has lost so far this year – the Under-18s, BUCS team and the RFC – and that’s a pretty outstanding achievement. We set our stall out before the season started to play good, attacking rugby, and we’ve done that, but we’re also executing better, finishing off our tries, and we’ve been defensively solid too.
“Our discipline has probably been the most significant improvement. We’ve been very hard to score against and that’s pleasing.
“We’ve played some good sides in the early part of the season but we have been fortunate with the fixtures as we’ve played them at home. We know we need to accumulate all the points we can before Christmas because we will travel to the top sides in the second half of the season.
“We have to switch on for this weekend too. Blaydon is always a tough place to go to and win and they have a notoriously strong scrum. We know the areas where will be challenged and the lads are focused ready for a difficult test.”
Hartpury have never lost to Blaydon and did the double against the northern side last term, winning 28-22 away from home and romping to a 71-12 success at home (pictured). They will travel up to the North-East on Friday afternoon.
Blaydon are currently rooted to the foot of the table, having lost five and drawn one game. And they will face a Hartpury team likely to be boosted by the return of full-back Mike Wilcox from a hip injury, while back row Will Safe, who is dual registered with Gloucester Rugby, and Bath Rugby fly-half Adam Hastings, are also set to be available.
There are three teams sitting on 23 points, seven behind Hartpury, and two of them meet on Saturday when Blackheath travel to Ampthill, both teams having lost just one game so far this season, in what should be a mighty encounter. The other, Birmingham Moseley, face an interesting trip to Rosslyn Park who appear to be rousing themselves after a slow start to the campaign.
Plymouth Albion and Mowden Park, currently fifth and sixth with very similar records, will meet in Devon – just a 750-mile round trip for the Tees-side club! Meanwhile, Fylde have enjoyed two successive wins and will meet a Coventry team at the Butts Park Arena which will be looking to bounce back after a couple of defeats.
Ionians and Esher should be well-matched, as will Old Albanian and Loughborough Students. Both Cambridge and Macclesfield have been involved in high-scoring games already this term and their clash in East Anglia has plenty of potential to be another.
Hartpury’s match at Blaydon kicks off at 2.30pm.