Hartpury RFC head coach, Mark Cornwell, was left scratching his head after Saturday’s defeat at Richmond, not specifically at the result itself, but at the manner in which his team succumbed.
After a resolute performance the previous week, in which they saw off the challenge of newly-promoted Coventry, there was very little to be happy about in south-west London, as the team produced a limp and error-strewn display.
“We’ve got to give full credit to Richmond,” Cornwell said. “They sensed a weakness, they went after us and they punished us.”
“We are working really hard to get the tries that we are scoring at the moment but then, on the other hand, we are just giving the opposition gifts.”
“I’ve been coaching for good few years and, right now, I’m trying to work out how we fix it. If it was something obvious, we’d have had it sorted after week one. We’ve barely had a game yet in which we haven’t made some ridiculous error which has ended up giving away points.”
“The further problem, at the moment, is that it’s not just one or two players who are making the mistakes. As coaches, we have to try and find the solution to that, somehow.”
The clear indication is that Cornwell and the rest of the rugby management are planning changes to the squad for Saturday’s game with second-placed Ealing Trailfinders.
The visitors have collected four wins on the trot after the opening weekend defeat by London Irish, including beating the previously undefeated Cornish Pirates last weekend.
“There will definitely be some different combinations used this weekend,” said Cornwell. There will be some normal rotation, although one or two players may have to miss out because they’re just not giving us what we’re looking for, at this moment in time.”
Last Saturday’s result, allied to outcomes elsewhere, means that Hartpury have now sunk into the bottom two of the Championship, with only Yorkshire Carnegie – whose sole win, ironically, came over Richmond – beneath them.
“The pressure is always there to pick up results,” said Cornwell. “Unless we are somewhere near the top of our game, we are going to find it very difficult to compete against the sort of teams we are playing in the Championship, and we need to be able to perform at that level every week.”
“We can’t afford to compete at 70%-80% of our capabilities. We need to be at, or close to, 100%, week in, week out. The pressure is on all of the time, but mainly that comes from within – it’s pressure that myself and the rest of the coaches put on ourselves and it’s always there.”
Even without the Richmond performance, Ealing would be most neutral observers’ clear favourites going into this Saturday’s match. Does that make the game something of a ‘free hit’ for Cornwell and his men?
“They are a very, very good side and they will be competing with London Irish at the top of the table. They beat a good Pirates team last time out and those three – Irish, Ealing and Pirates – are the top three in the league, for me.”
“Nobody will be expecting us to go out and beat Ealing this weekend, so that anticipation won’t be on our backs in the way that it maybe was against Carnegie and Coventry,” Cornwell said.
“As I said, there will be a few different guys getting a chance this weekend and our message to them is that they should be going out there to express themselves, work hard and show us what they’ve got.”
Steve Leonard is still unavailable for selection and club captain, Simon Linsell, is rated as doubtful after missing Richmond with a shoulder injury.
“Simon is trying his best to get back for the weekend,” said Cornwell, “but right now it’s no better than a 50/50 chance. We also have to look at the bigger picture – is it worth pushing him now, when we’ve got a long season ahead of us?”
Joe Quinn will be certainly be missing after a head injury, which required stitches, in the opening two minutes of last Saturday’s game.
“We’ve got some fresh faces to come in,” Cornwell told us. “It’s giving us some options which we haven’t had in the past few weeks. We want these boys to come in and put a marker down, to say ‘this is what I’m all about and this is what I can offer.’ It’s going to be exciting.”
The squad announcement will be made on Friday lunchtime and the game versus Ealing Trailfinders kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday.