Hartpury to push on with three games remaining

Hartpury and Ampthill will renew a modern rivalry when the clubs meet at the Alpas on Saturday.

The teams have been largely locked together for the past nine seasons, with fixtures in both National 2, National 1 and the RFU Championship.

Championship history favours ‘the Mob’, who have won three out of four encounters at this level, although the most recent result was a 39-24 Hartpury victory in late November, when Hartpury built a lead and then allowed Ampthill back into the match, before stretching away in the final quarter.

In terms of the current campaign, Hartpury lie fifth in the table with Ampthill just four points and two places behind.  Both teams have played 17 matches.  Hartpury already have their best ever points total at Tier 2 and, with three games remaining, will be keen to ensure their highest finishing position within the English rugby pyramid.  

“We know plenty about Ampthill,” agreed Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.

“In their last two games, both of which I’ve watched, the weather has played a huge part.  They have played at Doncaster and at home to Richmond and both matches were played in strong winds”

Ampthill were beaten 19-13 at Castle Park, before edging past Richmond 13-8, at home in horrible conditions, last time out.

There should be no similar difficulties this week, with Saturday forecast to be a fine, dry day.

“They’re a team who work hard for each other and dig out results.  They’ve always got a good set-piece and they have shown that they are capable of pushing the top teams close,” said Cornwell.

“They stay in the fight, they make it very difficult for the opposition and we know it’s going to be a tough game.”

Hartpury will be able pick from a strong overall squad.  Both Robbie Smith and Conor Maguire have successfully served their ‘time’ for concussions picked up versus Jersey in game 16 and come back into contention for Saturday.

Hooker Ethan Hunt suffered a nasty cut above his eye early in the match at Doncaster last weekend, but it is an area where Hartpury currently have depth.

The Doncaster game was another good indicator of how far Hartpury have come this season, the final-kick, single-point loss against the current league leaders being, in the judgment of most, scant reward for a performance that deserved more.

“We can’t really ask more of the boys than go to a team that are top of the league and execute a game plan well, in a display that was pretty much spot on,” said Cornwell.

“Obviously, it was disappointing that the outcome of the game was completely taken out of our hands at the end, but I said to the lads afterwards that I was proud of every one of their performances.  Their stats were very impressive based around the number of carries and tackles made.  The better side on the day came out on the wrong side of the result.”

One of the reasons behind Hartpury’s improvement this season has been consistency of selection. 

“If we’re honest, we’ve probably chopped and changed a bit too much over the past few seasons,” he said.

“Going into next year we’re keen to keep as much of the current ‘core’ of contracted players as we can, as well as managing the resources that we get from our partner clubs more effectively.”

Hartpury come into Saturday’s game having just played three of the top four teams in successive matches, including promotion favourites Ealing Trailfinders.   

All of the games have resulted in losses, although performances have been, by and large, very encouraging.  It would great to combine both performance and outcome on Saturday!

The match-day squad will be announced on Friday at mid-day.

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