Somewhat belatedly, Happy New Year from all at Hartpury University RFC!
Hartpury take their first step into a new decade – remarkably, just the club’s third – with only their second home game since mid-November when Jersey Reds are the visitors to the Alpas Arena on Saturday.
It will be the first Greene King IPA Championship home fixture since November 16th, when Yorkshire Carnegie were dispatched in a seven-try, 45-12 romp.
Hartpury did also triumph in their one other home match since that day – making it four home wins on the bounce – although the 37-24 victory over the Doncaster Knights came in the Cup competition.
Despite generally murky local weather and a less than promising forecast, underfoot conditions should be fine for this weekend’s match, which will be in stark contrast to those experienced in the final game of 2019, a 6-0 defeat in the mud at the Mennaye Field, Penzance (Will Safe pictured, courtesy of LNC Images).
Whilst every credit goes to the Cornish Pirates for getting the game on in difficult circumstances, the amount of water that had fallen on the pitch – including a couple of sharp downpours in the two hours before the kick off – meant that the match barely registered as a spectacle for the healthy Yuletide crowd.
“The conditions were pretty atrocious,” said Hartpury Head Coach, Mark Cornwell. “I felt a bit sorry for all the players, having to go out and perform on that pitch, but it is what it is and sometimes you just have to get on with it.”
“We stuck at it and there wasn’t huge amount between the sides on the day. The bonus point was the first that we have taken out of any league game with the Pirates, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.”
Since that match, the players have had two weekends off, giving the squad a bit of breathing space and the opportunity to take care of the niggling injuries that build up over a season.
“It was unusual not to have had a game between Christmas and New Year,” said Cornwell. “It was good for everybody to have a couple of weeks to recharge the batteries.”
“Currently, we’re pretty close to having a fully fit squad. Players like Mike Flook, Tom Jubb, George Simpson and Sam Goatley are all back and close to 100%. Will Tanner’s partner and baby are also back home following the birth, so things are a lot more settled for him now, as well.”
“The only question mark is over Jake Henry, who got a nasty head knock at the Pirates which left him with an injury to his jaw – he’s on the way back now, but I’m not sure if he’ll make it for this weekend.”
“Beyond that, we’re having the normal discussions with our Premiership partners about which of our dual-registered players might be available this week. It’s a European weekend, so that can go either way.”
There were no dual-registered or loan players in the squad against Pirates.
Saturday will be the third encounter with the Reds this season, after two previous meetings in the Cup, both of which went the way of the islanders.
Jersey have won four and lost three of their league matches this season, and whilst away defeats at Newcastle and Ealing were hardly unexpected, a 10-13 reversal at home to London Scottish, in their last game of the old year, was more of a surprise.
“I’ve watched so many Jersey games this year that I feel as though I could be coaching them,” joked Cornwell.
“As always, Saturday will be hard. Jersey make every game difficult – you never go out and expect to score easy tries against them.”
“They play with a lot of energy, they’re very physical and always strong at the set-piece.”
“They are now a very experienced Championship side and they know how to play at this level. We’ve got a lot of respect for what they do there.”
“Having said all that, we feel that we’re gradually getting a little bit closer to them. We won over there last season – which was a great result for us – and it’s up to us to make sure that they don’t get everything their own way on Saturday.”
“Few people would have expected London Scottish to go and win in Jersey before Christmas. Again, it was a game played in awful conditions but, credit to Scottish, they stuck at it and showed us what could be achieved”.
Saturdays match kicks off at the earlier than usual time of 1.30pm. The squad will be announced on Friday at noon.