In-form Hartpury look to extend run against dangerous Blues

Hartpury, fresh from the 62-19 destruction of London Scottish, return to home territory this weekend for the visit of Bedford Blues.

Last Saturday’s match turned out to be something of milestone for the Red & Blacks; the first away victory in 30 months coinciding with the highest points total in any game since the National League days.

There have been clear signs, in recent weeks – particularly in the home wins over Pirates and Coventry – that Hartpury are a different ‘animal’ than the one that rolled over more than once last season.  The set-piece has been solid, the defence impressive and the attack has been able to fire on those sturdy foundations.

Nine tries were the result of all that on Saturday and, whilst there will be stronger opponents than the Exiles in the games ahead, Hartpury now go forward with a good deal of confidence.

Not that it was all plain sailing at the RAG, as a hesitant start – not for the first time this season – threatened to spoil the show.

“We had to grow into the game,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.

“It wasn’t a great start.  Once we found our feet and started to settle, we were able to play some decent rugby, but at the beginning of the match our error count was too high – as was the rate at which we gave up penalties – and we gave them too many ways to get into the game.”

“As coaches, we need to find ways of getting the team starting better and eliminating those early errors.  We should have been a lot more comfortable at half-time against Scottish than we were.”

“The pleasing thing was that we were able to find that confidence and cohesion and, once that had happened, we started playing well with the ball in hand.  Our movement and tempo was very good and as the game developed I felt that the bench had a very positive impact as well.”

“We didn’t drop off in any aspect of the performance once we started replacing players.  We’ve got that extra strength-in-depth this season, which means that when need to freshen things up we don’t need to worry about the players coming off the bench.”

The team know that they will need to continue the good form this Saturday, against a club that they have beaten just once in eight attempts so far.

With two defeats in four matches – including a home loss to Richmond last weekend – it hasn’t been one-way traffic for the Blues this season, although they are, as always, capable of producing high-quality running rugby.

“Blues will be a completely different challenge to Scottish,” said Cornwell.

“They are very adept at running the ball and they generally play with a lot of width,” he said.  “We’ll need to be very disciplined and organised defensively and they are an excellent counter-attacking side, so we’ll need to make sure that our kicking is on point.”

“They score a lot of tries – they’ve picked up the four-try bonus point in every game this season, even the ones that they’ve lost.”

“We play a number of teams in the Championship who are going to be very physical and come at you via ‘route one’, with a set-piece orientation.  I’ve been really pleased with the way that we’ve fronted up to those teams this season and met that particular challenge.”

“With Blues, the challenge is going to be filling the field, defensively, and making sure we’re winning the battles in those wide channels.”

The game has every chance of being a great spectacle for the supporters of both clubs.

Hartpury have no new injury concerns and, happily, are in a position to welcome players back, with co-captain JB Bruzulier and flankers Aled Ward and Xavier Hastings all in contention for this weekend.  The longer-term absentees, such as Oli Robinson and Shaun Knight, are also another week closer to a return.

Gloucester and Bristol have an ‘A Team’ team fixture against each other this weekend and, whilst that will have an impact on selection, the returning players are more than likely to compensate.  The squad will be announced at noon on Friday.

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