Hartpury may have suffered defeat at Newcastle on Friday night, but there was plenty about their performance in that match that will maintain the current air of optimism around the Alpas Arena.
The Falcons appear to be, by some distance, the outstanding team in this year’s Championship – not surprising for a club that finished 4th in the Premiership just the season before last – and, whilst nobody is claiming that Hartpury should have won at Kingston Park, the eventual score-line was very harsh on the visitors.
“It was quite disappointing that the game got away from us at the end,” said Hartpury’s Attack Coach, former Gloucester and Bristol full-back Jonny Goodridge.
“For 55 to 60 minutes we were right in the game, at 10-3 and then 15-10, so we’ve got to take the positives from how we stayed in the match against a very good side.”
“They had a very strong bench and upped the tempo in the final quarter, which we found it difficult to live with.”
“It’s a bizarre thing to say when you’ve conceded 50 points, but there were many aspects of our play, including our defence, that we were pleased with.”
Two further games remain in the Cup competition – in which Hartpury cannot progress – and both will be a more realistic test of the progress that this Red & Blacks squad is making.
Doncaster Knights will be Hartpury’s final home opponents of 2019 on December 14th, but ahead of that there is the prospect of a trip to Jersey this weekend.
“It’s going to be another extremely tough game,” said Goodridge.
“There are lots of elements to factor in, such as the travel and everything that goes around that, plus the fact that, of course, Jersey have a very strong squad.”
“We’re expecting them to be extremely physical at the breakdown and with a strong set-piece. Added to that, they’re full of good ideas and score a lot of clever tries off turnovers and kick returns. They’re full of tricks.
“So it’s a tough match to go into. Physically we’ve got to be ‘on point’ but, equally, we’ve got to be mentally prepared for the fact that they may attack from anywhere on the field.”
“It’s a big ask, but a challenge that we, as both coaches and players, are excited about.”
Despite the fact that Hartpury cannot progress beyond the pool stage, a win on Saturday would be fairly critical for Jersey. How does that affect the mind-set going into the match?
“We’ll never go into any game thinking that the result doesn’t matter,” said Goodridge. “We are going there to win. We did it last year in the league – probably to the surprise of a lot people – and we’ll be taking the same attitude on Saturday.”
“But, yes, it’s also about our performance. We’ll look at what we weren’t so good at last week and improve on that. We always have the view that as long as we play well, there’s a chance we can pick up the results.”
Hartpury’s record in Jersey is one defeat, in 2017-18, followed by a momentous 10-7 victory last season, which went some way to keeping the Red & Blacks in Tier 2. The sides were locked at 7-7 with the final whistle approaching, before a late Sam Leeming penalty (pictured, LNC Images) snatched the result.
Mike Flook picked up a rib injury at Newcastle, which is likely to keep him side-lined for the next couple of weeks. Also unavailable this week will be Jamie Forrester, whose wife gave birth to their first child recently, plus hooker Will Tanner, for whom a similar event is imminent. Overall, though, the squad is looking healthy.
“Players like (back-row forward) Iain Grieve and (lock) Tom Jubb are coming back into fitness now,” said Goodridge.
“Also (lock) Bob Fuller, who has been a long term absentee, is not too far away.” It was against Jersey, almost 14 months ago, that Fuller sustained a serious knee ligament injury.
Hartpury will name their squad at noon on Friday. Saturday’s game kicks off at 3pm at the Stade Santander.