Following a strong performance in last Saturday’s well-deserved win over the Cornish Pirates, Hartpury have the luxury of naming a relatively unchanged squad for tomorrow night’s trip to Nottingham Rugby.
The exception is in the back row, where every single member of last week’s starting trio was forced off by injury the in Pirates game – two of them before the second half – and none of whom have recovered in time for Nottingham.
So it’s a first start of 2021-22 for experienced breakaway, Iain Grieve, now starting his fifth campaign with the Red &Blacks, after joining in 2017 on promotion to the Championship. The ex-Bristol skipper will be joined by former BUCS Super Rugby player Harry Short, following his two tries in a very strong Championship debut last week, and by Sam Jeffries who has joined on loan from the Bears.
The only other changes are on the bench, where Dale Lemon returns after an enforced absence last week and Matty Jones steps in as the replacement scum-half, after Oscar Lennon played a full match for the university in midweek.
Hartpury DoR, John Barnes was understandably happy to reflect on last week’s bonus-point win.
“We’ve struggled against the Pirates historically but the boys put in a completely different performance this time around, both physically and in terms of the control that we had throughout the whole game.”
“We scored when it mattered, particularly the penalty and the try either side of half-time which gave the lads a lift after a tight first half. That meant that Pirates had to chase the game and, if anything, we left a couple of scores out there. There was clearly no forward pass in the try that we got late on.”
“Having said that, we got the four-try bonus point, so it was a job well done.”
“It’s always tougher away from home, and that’s the next challenge that the squad have to rise to,” he said.
“We’ve got two more games before the first break – both Friday nights – and it would be great to see if we can get a little run going.”
“Nottingham have bought Craig Hammond back in as head coach and they’ve changed how they play a little bit. They had a good home win in the first week and they probably should have won at Richmond (the home team recovered from 3-24 to snatch a 1-point win).”
“They’re a team who seem pretty confident and know what they’re doing, and at home on a Friday night we’re expecting them to be a strong test.”
Referring to the back-row injuries – bearing in mind that Xavier Hastings also limped out of the game in Round 1, at Ealing – Barnes was quick to point out the greater depth in quality around the current squad.
“I’m sure we’ll field a team that’s capable of competing,” he said.
“Harry Short had a really positive debut last week. He obviously missed his last year of university rugby but he’s trained really well over the summer and deserved his slot on the bench last week. As it happened, he had to come on early and did well enough to start this weekend.”
It was very much a team performance against the Pirates, but Barnes also had praise for his two lock forwards, who went into the match without a specialist replacement on the bench.
“It’s unusual for both second rows to play the full 80 in the modern game,” he said.
“It was great to see both Alex and Cameron get through the game so well. Either could have been man-of-the-match, so it was as much about the quality of the performances as the fact that they got through in good health. They’ve been great additions to the squad and we’ll also have Dale back this week as well.”
Friday’s game, at Lady Bay, Nottingham, kicks off at 7.45pm.