Fresh from their uplifting 46-0 ‘on the road’ victory over Henley Hawks last time out, the RFC return to the College this weekend with an intriguing fixture against Darlington Mowden Park in store.
Intriguing because of DMP’s slightly puzzling form this season – a team that were tipped to be among the leaders in all the pre-season chatter, currently sit in 13th place with just two wins from their seven matches so far.
Those wins came in their opening fixture, at home to strugglers Cinderford, and last week when they overcame Loughborough Students with a comfortable looking 39-16 scoreline.
In between there were five defeats, it is true, but four of those were away from home at Wharfedale, Ampthill, Blackheath and Rosslyn Park – certainly not exactly an easy quartet of fixtures.
So, perhaps, the only major shock in DMP’s season so far was their 28-30 home defeat, to the afore-mentioned Henley, in the second week.
DMP’s impressive Northern Echo Arena has been used as a training base in the on-going RWC, hence the need the travel extensively in early season. They will no doubt be hoping that the return to a more normal home/away pattern with, of course, a good run of home games to come later in the season, will see them quickly address their unexpected league position.
Like Hartpury, DMP were new to National One last season, achieving a solid mid-table position, some 20 points and four places behind the RFC in the final standings.
Both our fixtures versus DMP last season resulted in Hartpury victories. The away leg was an enthralling affair, with the sides neck-and-neck until an excellent late Steph Reynolds try eventually settled matters.
Hartpury’s home fixture was more straightforward, when DMP got badly cut up in the first half by the likes of Protheroe and Carter (pictured, putting in the big dive). Hartpury effectively killed the game by scoring four tries without reply before the break – DMP’s late fightback providing no bonus points and little consolation.
Hartpury go into Saturday’s game in good fettle, with six successive wins under their belt and a two-point lead over second placed Blackheath at the top of the table. New injury worries are relatively limited, although with Mat Protheroe sustaining a hand injury at Henley and Jacob Perry absent with a broken jaw there will have been some thought regarding the important number 10 shirt.
Elsewhere, improving Fylde host third-placed Esher and it will be interesting to see how Ampthill fare on their trip to the the Dales. A few weeks ago, Coventry versus Rosslyn Park might have been seen as an early indicator of the eventual title destination (and, of course, it still might be) but for the time being these two clubs will be looking to improve on recent results, a process that Park started last weekend.
There is welcome week off following the DMP fixture before a tricky-looking November. We travel to Blackheath and Wharfedale, those games sandwiching a home match with Ampthill, another side who, like Hartpury, have shown up well in early season. However, it’s Darlington that we put all our focus into in the short term as we seek to maintain momentum.