In a season bursting with ‘firsts’, we encounter another on Friday evening as we make our inaugural appearance at Goldington Road, home of the Bedford Blues.
The Blues have a long and illustrious history, certainly being considered as one of England’s ‘first class’ sides for many decades before, in the league and professional era, having consolidated a position in England’s second tier, where they have spent most of the past 30 years.
There was a brief excursion into the top level of league rugby, in 1998-2000, but, like so many other clubs, they found that status difficult to sustain financially.
Goldington Road, their home for more than 100 years, is witnessing some exciting rugby this season as the Blues have developed a reputation as one of the Championship’s more entertaining sides. Whilst there have been three defeats from their nine league matches so far, two of these have been against the toughest of opposition, in the form of clear leaders Bristol and at second-placed Ealing Trailfinders.
Their most recent results are a creditable draw away at Doncaster Knights and a convincing home win over fellow high-flyers, Nottingham.
In order to take something from this game, Hartpury will need to address a drop in form that has been noticeable since our own win against Doncaster back in early October, culminating in a try-less defeat, at home to Richmond, last time out.
Director of Rugby, John Barnes, says that the players are aware of the issues and are working hard to put things right.
“We have trained really well this week,” he said. “We had a good meeting on Monday about the way we have performed in the last couple of games, which has not been up to the usual Hartpury standards, particularly when we have had the ball.
Yes, the weather played a huge part last week, but we needed to be better than we were.”
He is, though, under no illusions regarding the size of the challenge on Friday.
“My opinion is that, along with Bristol, Bedford are the best attacking side in the league and they obviously work very hard on that side of their game.
They have got a very good 9-10-12. There is plenty of experience and flair with Lee Dickson at 9, Hooley or Shepherd at 10 and Le Bourgeois at 12. It’s certainly one of the best combinations in the Championship so we know what is going to come at us.
They’ve scored a lot of points this year, they know the pitch – with its slope – very well, and they’re a well-supported club so, yes, Friday night will be tough – but that’s the league we’re happy to be in.
Rupert Harden has tweeked his knee again, so he’ll be out for a couple weeks, and beyond that we’re going to freshen up the squad for Bedford. We’ve got a few guys who have been itching to play, so we’ll give them a chance this Friday.”
Hartpury will name their match-day squad on Thursday.
Bedford will have some high-quality players at their disposal for Friday’s fixture, most notably an England test-playing scrum-half of fairly recent vintage in the aforementioned Dickson.
Equally well known to Hartpury followers, at least, are hooker George Edgson (pictured) and back row forward Josh Buggea, both of whom were AASE-winners in their respective careers in our renowned Under-19 academy. Edgson was a championship winner twice, in 2013 and 2014, playing alongside the likes of Ellis Genge (now Leicester) and Jonny Hill (Exeter), while Buggea was part of a slightly earlier crop that also included Ross Moriarty, Billy Burns (both now Gloucester) and Elliot Stooke (Bath).
Friday’s game kick off at 7.45pm and if you want to watch but can’t make it to Bedford, don’t forget that there is an option to watch the whole game LIVE, via the RFU live-stream (details to follow).