John Barnes and his players cannot wait for the season ‘proper’ to begin this Saturday.
After three weeks of matches in the Championship Cup – effectively a pre-season programme for Hartpury – Greene King IPA Championship clubs get down to the serious business of league rugby this weekend.
With all due respect to the Cup competition, it is fair to say that this Saturday’s game has been the focus for the management, coaches and players since the 2019-20 fixtures were announced back in July.
Doncaster Knights are the visitors to the ALPAS Arena for the opening clash, their third trip to Hartpury since promotion was gained in 2017.
A Harry Randall-inspired Red & Blacks won the first encounter in a breathless and exciting meeting, while Doncaster were easy winners back in January this year, when Hartpury were in a trough of poor form and struggling with injuries.
Both sides will be having to cope with absenteeism on Saturday. For the home team, resources at lock forward were already paper-thin before a concussion to new signing Tom Jubb.
Youngster Harry Butler has recovered from a knock collected in last week’s game versus Newcastle, but both he and Joe Batley will be required to appear for their respective parent clubs, Gloucester and Bristol, this weekend. Tom Everard, who is in line to play at least some part against Doncaster, has been fully engaged with Hartpury’s university first team.
The Knights have had similar issues in terms of injury, their own problems compounded by the fact that ‘back five’ forward Ollie Stedman remains suspended as a result of an unnecessary punch thrown – and caught on camera – during the Cup meeting between these two clubs three weeks ago.
Doncaster won that game, 44-22, but Hartpury DoR, John Barnes, does not see that result having any relevance to what is likely to happen on Saturday.
“We’ve obviously gone back and looked at that match and I’m sure that they’ve done the same,” he said. “However, it was very much ‘pre-season’ for us – we made so many errors and our lineout didn’t function – and so it was very obvious what we needed to go away and work on.”
“We saw from the performance against Newcastle that a lot of that work has been done.”
With reference to that Falcons game, although Hartpury were well behind on the scoreboard at full-time, there was plenty of evidence that things were started to come together.
“The final outcome was a bit harsh,” said Barnes. “It didn’t really reflect the effort that we had put in, or the pressure that we were able to put Newcastle under at times.”
“We were right in the game at the break and we knew that the first score in the second half would be critical. Unfortunately, we lost a man to a yellow card for a misjudged tackle, when we were not under any particular pressure, and the game went away from us after that.”
“We made a lot less errors than we had done in the first two games. Our work-rate and energy were good and we did manage to hold onto the ball for decent periods against a very strong team. It was a tough test, but a good test for us.”
Hartpury won two of their first four fixtures last season – including the opener, at home to another Yorkshire side, Carnegie – and also made a decent start in their debut Championship season, despite a hard-fought defeat at Bristol in the opening round.
“Every team will be keen to get off to a good start,” said Barnes “and we’ve all had three games to test things out. There’s no reason why we can’t beat Doncaster and getting that first win under our belts would be great.”
Hartpury will name their side at noon on Friday. Saturday’s fixture kicks off at the normal time of 2.30pm.