After a rather boring weekend off, we can finally get back to some proper Championship rugby this weekend, when we visit London Scottish, at the Richmond Athletic Ground (3.00pm).
Due to the effects of Covid, and the Exiles’ decision not to take part in last season’s truncated competition, this will be our first meeting of any kind since November 2019. On that occasion, Hartpury produced a strong effort to run out as 44-17 winners in a 6-try display.
Our next scheduled meeting – in mid-March 2020 – would have been away to Scottish at the RAG, but that game was one of the first victims of the pandemic, a week prior to the general cancellation of matches.
That win in November 2019 was part of a good run for the Red & Blacks was saw them picking up three wins in four matches (Nottingham and Yorkshire Carnegie were the other victories) and Hartpury, once again, come into this fixture in good shape after a confidence-boosting win over Coventry in Round 4.
“I was pleased with that performance for a number of reasons,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.
“Coventry put some width on the ball early in the game and our defence was superb. Then, again, when they became a little more ‘route one’ later in the game, we had the answers to that approach as well.”
“Bar a couple of lapses, our defence was very strong. Our discipline was outstanding, meaning we were able to defend phase-after-phase without giving anything away, or giving the referee any decisions to make.”
“I thought that for most of the match we were able to control that middle third of the pitch very well. If there was any criticism it might be that we might have left a couple of scores out there the first half. But there are always things to work on and, on the whole, we accounted for ourselves well and stood up physically.”
Of course, Hartpury have been here before already this season when, after a great home win over the Pirates, they let it all go away from them in a sloppy opening half-hour at Nottingham.
“We did let ourselves down in that game,” said Cornwell. “A couple of things happened early on in the match which definitely affected us. We speak to players about not letting negative events in game affect the whole team, but that’s exactly what happened.”
“We ended up playing catch-up with 40 minutes left and we ran out of time.”
“Looking ahead to Saturday, we’ll be concentrating on ourselves and doing what we do well. That means bringing the right level of physicality and looking to replicate what we did in our home games with Pirates and Coventry.”
“We’ll respect London Scottish and what they can bring to the game, but it’s up to us frustrate their game plan and break them down.”
“We’ve watched their games and we’ve highlighted their strengths – at the scrum, for instance, where they got a lot of penalties out of both Richmond and Ampthill – and they’re definitely starting to come together after having had such a long lay-off.”
“We expect that they’ll continue to improve week-on-week, so the boys have got to be aware of threats that they can pose but, again, this is a game for focusing on what we can do and making sure that we can gel, particularly when we have the ball.”
Health-wise, tight-head Shaun Knight is still out with a knee problem but expected to return to training shortly, with a view to being match-ready in a month or so. Oli Robinson is running again, but not quite ready for contact after fracturing a rib against Pirates. Back in contention will be back row forwards Aled Ward and Xavier Hastings, although JB Bruzulier may need another week
There will be some further changes as Hartpury’s Bristol loanees are all unavailable this week.
Hartpury will announce their squad for the London Scottish match at 12noon on Friday.