Having taken something of a beating at Trailfinders last weekend, Hartpury’s task does not get any easier this coming Saturday when league-leaders, Newcastle Falcons – 100% in all competitions this season – are the visitors to the Alpas Arena.
Hartpury were unfortunate to meet an Ealing side which appear to be clicking into top gear as the Championship league season passes its half-way mark (Will Safe in action from the game, right, courtesy of LNC Images).
“Ealing played very, very well,” said Hartpury Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.
“Even their own coaches said that it was one of those days when everything that they tried seemed to work for them. It was dry day on what is a very fast surface and it turned out to be a very tough challenge for our boys.”
“We weren’t at our best. We found it difficult to compete with them physically and by the end we were chasing shadows.”
“They seemed to get better as the game went on and were happy to just pile on then pressure. It was a very impressive display from them – probably the best performance that we’ve been up against since we got into the Championship three years ago.”
Falcons, obviously, will hardly offer any respite on Saturday as our visitors will be keen to rubber-stamp their return to the Premiership at the earliest possible opportunity.
It’s by no means a ‘done deal’ at this stage but, with no defeats against their name in either league or cup – and an away league win at the Trailfinders already accomplished – it would take a brave man to bet against Newcastle bouncing back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
“If we get things wrong, Newcastle are more than capable of doing exactly the same as Trailfinders,” said Cornwell.
“However, we’re at home with close to a full squad, with a few players coming back that were either not available or rested last week.”
“I’m looking for a much more positive performance on Saturday and to meeting the challenges that Newcastle are going to bring. As I said, we weren’t ever really ‘at it’ last weekend and that’s going to have to change.”
Hartpury do have a couple of fitness questions ahead of Saturday’s game, which will all be resolved by Friday. The likelihood is that – with players such as Simon Linsell, Seb Nagle-Taylor, Dan Murphy, George Simpson and Akapusi Qera all back in the frame – the squad will be at close to full strength.
Meanwhile, off the pitch, Hartpury are happy and proud to be using Saturday’s fixture as a platform to raise funds for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, a charity which has been formed to raise funds for research into Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
Doddie Weir, as all sports fans will know, was diagnosed with MND some time ago and is a former rugby union forward who performed with distinction for the Falcons through the most successful period in their history – when the club were early Premiership champions – as well as for both Scotland and the British & Irish Lions.
With the Calcutta Cup match also taking place in Saturday (Scotland vs England will be shown live on a giant screen after the Championship match) there could hardly be a more appropriate time for this fund-raiser to take place.
Raffles and silent auctions will take place for a series of fantastic offers including a meal for two, courtesy of friend-of-the-club, multiple Michelin Star holder, chef Tom Kerridge, plus other items donated by both the Foundation and by Hartpury.
Cornwell played against Falcons, and Doddie Weir, during his professional career with Gloucester Rugby.
“I mainly remember losing a lot!” he said. “Newcastle were an exceptionally good side back in those days.”
“Doddie was a huge character in the game and an amazing player who was probably ahead of his time in terms of his athletic ability.”
“He was an exceptional line-out operator and I just remember him as being one of the best second rows that I ever played against. He was fully deserving of all of the caps that he received with Scotland, as well as his opportunity with the Lions.”
“I speak a lot with Carl Hogg (former Gloucester forwards coach, now Head Coach at the Ospreys) who happens to be a very close friend of Doddie’s,” said Cornwell.
“I know that the foundation will be extremely grateful for any money that we can raise on Saturday, which is an extremely fitting occasion as it features both the Falcons and Scotland.”
“Obviously it’s very sad that Doddie has been affected in this way, but at the same time it’s remarkable that he is using his predicament as a way of raising money for research into MND. We are really pleased that Hartpury can do something in a positive way to try and help that cause.”
Saturday’s Championship fixture kicks off at 2.30pm and, following that, spectators are more than welcome to stay and watch the Calcutta Cup match on our giant screen.