Bristol session breeds optimism ahead of Pirates trip

Missing – Shaun Knight (neck) is an injury concern ahead of Pirates

Unbeknown to most, Hartpury played out a full 80-minute ‘behind closed doors’ game with a strong Bristol Bears XV last weekend.  The team put up a very good account of themselves at Bristol’s new and lavishly-equipped training centre.

Coming up against a strong side, containing plenty of players with recent Premiership experience, including the highly-rated centre Piers O’Connor and former Red & Black flanker Dan Thomas, the game was lost 33-38, but only to a late Bears penalty try.

The management staff were highly encouraged by the effort.

“We’ve been racking our brains recently about where we’re currently at and how we’ve been playing,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.

“We’ve tried various different things and they haven’t quite worked.  But, it’s funny, you can sometimes make the simplest of changes and they make a huge difference.”

“We tweaked a little bit of what we’re doing around our game plan, mainly in terms of our defence, and the transformation to what we watched on Sunday, from what we’d been seeing over the previous two months, was unbelievable.”

“I was on the radio with all of the other coaches and we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.  The team were energised, physical and generally just really good, against a Bristol outfit who were fully loaded with talent.”

“Obviously, we fully recognise that when you’re playing at the home of the Premiership leaders and in those sorts of surroundings, players do get a lift.  But there was much more, to what I saw, than just that.”

“We saw things from some of our players that we just hadn’t seen so far this season.  Everybody was feeding off the energy from all the other boys and it’s no exaggeration to say that Bristol were a little bit in shock, at times, of where we were at, physically, in that game.”

“For large periods of the match we were in control and we scored some really, really good tries.”

“Bristol did get ahead early on with a couple of scores, but the boys showed some very strong character, which we possibly haven’t seen from them – collectively – so far his season.”

Hartpury travel to Cornish Pirates on Saturday (3.30pm) – a team that we have yet to beat in any kind of fixture since we first met in 2017 – and the question will now be how the squad can carry that momentum into what is sure to be a demanding fixture.

“That’s the challenge,” said Cornwell.

“It’s important that the players can see the levels that they reached against Bristol and how it feels when you come off the pitch after a good, fully committed performance.”

“We’re looking at them to take the same attitude into the game on Saturday and to produce that same physical edge and commitment.”

“Let’s be perfectly honest, our record against the Pirates is atrocious.  I can’t remember how many times they’ve beaten us now, but the ‘wins column’ definitely shows a zero.  I think that the closest we got was last year, when we lost 6-0 down there in the rain and mud.”

“They’re a side that have been notoriously difficult for us to beat.  We’ve tried different things, different angles and different approaches – none of it’s worked!”

“They always have a good depth to the squad, with strong forwards and a good set-piece – they tick boxes all over the place.”

“There was obviously a big buzz about them when they beat Saracens in the first game of the season and that might have just dropped off a little bit, more recently.”

“I was very surprised by their home defeat to Ampthill – although they should have won the game, it was one of those days when it just went away from them – and they seem to have a few injuries.  That’s unusual in itself, as you normally know, by and large, who’s going to be playing against you for Pirates before the team is even announced.”

“We’ll go down there in a good frame of mind, off the back of that Bristol performance, and it would be good to get that zero out of the record books.”

Hartpury picked up a few bumps and bruises against the Bears, but nothing of concern.  The major casualty for the weekend looks likely to be tight head Shaun Knight, who picked up a neck injury during training recently.

The squad for Saturday will be announced at noon tomorrow.

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