Hartpury travel to Bedford Blues on Saturday, looking to bounce back after the disappointment of Saturday’s last-gasp home defeat to Jersey Reds.
In a low scoring game, Hartpury were leading by four points before a final-play try, from a lineout drive, took the result away from them.
Hartpury were left with a deep sense of injustice after referee George Selwood and his assistants had inexplicably missed a clear knock on in an earlier passage of play that, if awarded, would have avoided the need for Hartpury to defend their line in those final moments.
The tight nature of the game, as in the previous outing at Cornish Pirates, was in some part due to the weather, but also an indication that Hartpury are now closing the gap on some of the Championship’s more established sides.
“The weather has played a big part in this season’s rugby,” said DoR, John Barnes, “and a lot of teams have struggled to score tries.”
“Having been in the Championship for three years now we do feel that we know what it’s about. Physicality is really key and I’ve been pleased with the way we’ve defended against two of the better sides in the league.”
“It’s a shame that we haven’t come out on top in either match, but we’re going to Bedford looking for our next win.”
Bedford are known for an open and attacking brand of rugby and have been among the Championship’s stronger sides in recent years, if not quite reaching the heights needed to topple the ‘big boys’, such as Bristol and London Irish.
Having finished 4th in 2015-16, they dipped to 8th the following year, before 3rd place finishes over the past two seasons.
This year, the Blues had an unproductive cup campaign, which included a particularly heavy defeat at Ealing Trailfinders, while their league form has also been some way short of expectations.
An opening-day victory over current bottom club, Yorkshire Carnegie, was not repeated until last weekend, when the Blues picked up a highly creditable win away to London Scottish.
In between there were six defeats, including a painful Boxing Day loss at home to newly-promoted near neighbours, Ampthill.
The bare statistics probably don’t tell the full story, however, as many of the defeats have been narrow, notably a 6-11 loss to runaway leaders Newcastle, a 26-19 defeat at powerful Coventry and a four-point loss on the road at Doncaster.
“Bedford lost one or two forwards at the end of last season, which might have cost them a little bit up front,” said Barnes.
“But they’ve still got a very good back line, with Rich Lane having moved to 13 and Pete Lydon having arrived, on loan, from Ealing. They are one team that is definitely hoping for the weather to improve.”
“They’re coming off a very good win at London Scottish last week and they are at home, so it’s sure to be a very tough game.”
Apart from a comfortable home win for the Blues in November 2017, the few league games between Hartpury and Saturdays’ opponents have been closely fought. Late tries brought Bedford two wins in 2018, while Hartpury managed to hold on for a two-point win (28-26, pictured courtesy of LNC Images) in another nail-biter last March.
There is plenty of Hartpury ‘pedigree’ in the Blues camp these days, with four squad members having some level of connection with Gloucestershire.
Recent BUCS Super Rugby-winners, fly-half Sam Leeming and prop Joe Wrafter, have both featured in recent match-day squads. Leeming was an important player for Hartpury in last season’s fight against relegation, whereas Wrafter went to Birmingham Moseley before moving to Goldington Road at the start of this campaign.
From a slightly earlier vintage, back row forward Josh Buggea played in the same AASE team as the likes of Ross Moriarty, Billy Burns, Elliot Stooke, Callum Braley and Ellis Genge. Ed Coulson, a back three player, also had a season with Hartpury in 2017-18.
Hartpury’s squad is unlikely to change greatly from last week, particularly with the Premiership Shield meaning that the dual-registered players are likely to be needed elsewhere.
“Unfortunately Dan Koster is still out with a calf issue, which is disappointing because he had been playing well since coming back,” said Barnes. “However, we’re confident that the squad that we’ve got now is good enough to go there and put Bedford under pressure.”
Kick off is at 3pm on Saturday. The squad announcement will be at noon on Friday.