As Hartpury conclude preparations for Friday night’s game versus Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm, Director of Rugby, John Barnes, confirmed that there was an obvious level of expectation throughout the squad, despite the coaches’ need to look at the game, objectively, as another component of their pre-season programme.
“The guys that are involved are really looking forward to it,” he said, as Hartpury face up to their second taste of Premiership opposition in the space of less than two weeks.
The match is the first meeting between the two clubs and, with a mass of connections on both sides of the fence at the Hartpury campus, is likely to have a slightly unusual feel.
Ignoring current injuries, the Gloucester squad features a large number of ‘old boys’ who have either studied at Hartpury or represented ‘the RFC’, with the likes of Tom Savage, Henry Trinder, Ross Moriarty, Lewis Ludlow, Gareth Evans, Ben Vellacott, Billy Burns, Callum Braley, Jason Woodward and man-of-the-moment, Charlie Sharples, all having spent time at the College.
Equally, Hartpury will be fielding four players – Harry Randall, Alex Craig (pictured, scoring versus Rosslyn Park), Will Safe and debutant Henry Walker – who are members of the Academy at Gloucester. All except Walker have studied and played at Hartpury in the past. Hartpury’s coaching team also features Mark Cornwell, Jonny Goodridge and Chris Fortey – all well-known faces at Kingsholm.
Despite that – and the satisfaction that comes from making a contribution to the Charlie Sharples testimonial year – Barnes insists that the main value of the game is as preparation for next weekend’s opening Championship clash at Bristol Rugby.
“It’s another chance for us to see what our guys are all about against a high-quality Premiership squad,” he said. “We’ll rest a couple of lads who have already played in our two pre-season matches and that creates the chance for some other players to get some valuable minutes on the pitch.”
Hartpury come into the match on the back of a convincing 66-12 win over Rosslyn Park last weekend, a display that left the coaching staff generally happy.
“It was a pleasing performance against a club that have made life very hard for us in the past” Barnes said. “We certainly attacked very well and overall it was a good 80 minutes. Just as importantly, it gave our players the opportunity to get some extra game-time under their belts.
Having said that, we know it’s going to be a very big step up, both at Kingsholm and again next Sunday against Bristol.”
With the Bristol match now looming, Barnes and his team have taken some time to look at next week’s opponents in pre-season.
“As you would expect, they look very good,” he said. “They’ve already played against some high quality opposition and they’ve got Connacht this weekend. They’re playing top-level teams and performing pretty well, at the same time as playing a brand of rugby that’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Hartpury squad health is generally good, with only a few minor scrapes resulting from the Rosslyn Park fixture, giving Barnes plenty of selection options for Bristol, as things currently stand.
“In some positions we’ve got quite clear indications about who we would want to pick,” he said. “But, as usual, there are a handful of positions still up for grabs and that will be down to performances against Clifton, at Kingsholm and in training next week.”
As previously reported, a Hartpury XV will play Clifton Rugby tonight (Thursday) at the Gillman’s Ground. A 26-man squad has been named, featuring a combination of RFC and BUCS (student) players. Entry is free to all interested spectators.