If the win at Richmond was the high point in Hartpury’s season so far, then the performance at Esher last week was, or very close to, the opposite.
Indeed, since that fine afternoon at the Athletic Ground, Hartpury have lost twice – including a home defeat to Plymouth Albion – and have ground out wins over Fylde and Coventry, both of which were high on determination and work-rate but low on flair and creativity.
Unquestionably, in most cases, conditions have played their part, with greasy, heavy pitches hardly favouring the expansive game generally preferred by the College and, after a brief spell of dry winter weather, we look destined for a return to rain and murk this Saturday.
So it will be important for the team to demonstrate the right response to last week’s set-back when Blaydon, from the far north-east, are the visitors (2.30pm).
Blaydon have had a challenging season so far and currently hover just one place and three points above the bottom three. However, previous postponements mean that they have at least one or, in some cases, two games in hand over the teams around them.
Until recently all of their wins had come at home, but a victory at the equally-threatened Wharfedale last time out will have done wonders for their confidence as well as their survival chances.
At Crow Trees they can be a match for anyone, as victories over Rosslyn Park, Blackheath, Esher and Fylde can testify. Hartpury did come away from Tyneside with a 22-28 win, but were far from having it all their own way on the day.
Last year, Blaydon’s first and only visit to the College came on a sunny April day, which is unlikely to bear any significant resemblance to conditions here on Saturday. In a lively end-of-season tussle, the teams produced nine tries between them, five of which went to Hartpury who ran out as 34-26 winners.
Blaydon, like Hartpury, have a close relationship with their local Premiership neighbours, in this case the Falcons, and will often feature dual-registered players. This Saturday, with the Kingston Park outfit entertaining Brive in the Challenge Cup and Gloucester travelling to Zebre, DRs might be thin on the ground for both reams.
Whichever players turn up for Blaydon, however, Hartpury can expect a stiff challenge and will know that they need to show an improvement on last week’s display before they can think about taking points from this fixture.
In other matches, there are a couple of heavyweight all-London clashes that catch the eye. Esher will further test their credentials with a visit to current leaders Richmond, while Blackheath, with the benefit of an extra week’s rest following postponement at DMP, host a Rosslyn Park side whose 49-0 win over Ionians will have done them no harm at all.
At the foot of the table there are another batch of critical fixtures. Next weekend’s opponents Cinderford, who produced a high-scoring draw with Wharfedale last time out, will get a run-out on the carpet at Loughborough, looking to embroil the students in the relegation picture.
Dale, meanwhile, host Henley knowing that a win would see them out of the relegation spots provided that Hartpury are able to ‘do the business’ here.
Two in-form teams meet on Tees-side when Ampthill travel to Mowden Park, whilst Ionians vs. Fylde and Albion vs. Coventry look to be all about mid-table positions.
(Picture: Mat Protheroe makes a telling break in last year’s home fixture with Blaydon).